Emotion Coaching is a communication strategy which supports young people to self regulate and manage their stress responses.  It was originally developed in the USA by a psychologist John Gottman and is gaining ground in the UK as an effective way to nurture mental health and wellbeing in education settings. 

Gottman observed that children who thrive in their emotional and social development have parents who respond positively to the behaviour of the children.  He conducted research to establish exactly the characteristics of adult responses that lead to emotional health in children and as a result,  developed the concept of Emotion Coaching as an approach to behaviour which can be learned by parents and indeed anyone who interacts with children young people when they struggle to control their emotional responses. It is an approach that has since been used in the school context by a range of  professionals working with children.

Emotion Coaching is a simple yet highly nuanced co-regulation approach that takes practice and has the most benefit when all adults who interact with a child are trained, from the senior leadership team right through to the school caretaker.  Achievement for All has Accredited Emotion Coaching Practitioner Trainers who can help you embed Emotion Coaching practice in your school to promote improved social interaction and behaviour, contact us to find out more. Organisations like Emotion Coaching UK and the Attachment Research Community (ARC) are building an evidence base to support increased awareness and implementation of the approach, you can access research and case studies on their website.

Research shows that emotion coached children :

  • are more emotionally stable
  • are more resilient
  • achieve more academically
  • are more popular
  • have fewer behavioural problems
  • have fewer infectious diseases

In this country Bath Spa University have undertaken research in schools and have found that as a result of Emotion Coaching, there were:

  • fewer callouts to address classroom  disruption
  • a reduction in exclusions
  • the balance of consequences & rewards was improved

The three key findings of  Bath Spa University research :

  • Emotion Coaching enables adults to communicate more effectively and consistently with children in stressful situations
  • Adults found difficult situations less stressful & exhausting
  • Emotion Coaching promotes children’s self awareness of their emotions and generates nurturing relationships 

An introduction to Gottman’s 4 ‘types’ of parents and their effects on children

The Dismissing Parent disengages, ridicules or curbs all negative emotions, feels uncertainty and fears feeling out of control, uses distraction techniques; feels that emotions are toxic and unhealthy and uses the passage of time as a cure all replacement for problem solving.                     

Effects on the child : Children learn that there is something wrong with them, cannot regulate their emotions and feel that what they are feeling is not appropriate, not right and abnormal.

The Disapproving Parent is similar to the Dismissing Parent but more negative, judgemental and critical, controlling, manipulative, authoritative, overly concerned with discipline and strangely unconcerned with the meaning of a child’s emotional expression.

Effects on the child : Similar to the Dismissing parenting techniques

The Laissez- Faire Parent is endlessly permissive, offers little or no guidance about problem solving or understanding emotions; does not set any limits on behaviour, encourages ‘riding out’ of emotions until they are out of the way and out of sight.

 Effects on the child : Kids can’t concentrate, can’t get along with others or form friendships and can’t regulate their emotions in a healthy way.

The fourth and last ‘type’ of parents identified by Dr Gottman is not a common stereotype, perhaps because it isn’t negative and children didn’t realise just what it was that made their parents so ‘good’. This ‘good’ parent is what Dr Gottman calls ‘The Emotion Coach’ and when you look back on memories of your own childhood, you may recognise some of the strategies below were used by your parents when you felt the closest to them – when you felt that they could really relate to you, when you were truly understood.

The Five Essential Steps of Emotion Coaching. 

Step 1 – Be aware of emotions and tune in to the child’s emotions and your own

  • pay attention to your own emotions, from happiness to sadness to anger
  • understand that emotions are a natural and valuable part of life
  • observe, listen and learn how your child expresses different emotions
  • watch for changes in facial expressions, body language, posture and tone of voice.

Step 2- Connect with the child. Use emotional moments as opportunities to connect

  • pay close attention to the child’s emotions
  • try not to dismiss or avoid them
  • see emotional moments as opportunities for teaching.
  • recognise feelings and encourage the child to talk about his or her emotions
  • provide guidance before emotions escalate into misbehaviour

Step 3 – Listen to the child. Respect the child’s feelings by taking time to listen carefully

  • take the child’s emotions seriously
  • show the child that you understand what he or she is feeling
  • avoid judging or criticising the child’s emotions

Step 4 – Name emotions. Help the child identify and name emotions

  • identify the emotions the child is experiencing instead of telling the child how he or she should feel
  • naming emotions helps soothe a child
  • set a good example by naming your own emotions and talking about them
  • help the child to build a vocabulary for different feelings

 Step 5 -  Find good solutions. Explore solutions to problems together

  • redirect misbehaving children for what they do, not what they feel
  • when children misbehave, help them to identify their feelings and explain why their behaviour was inappropriate
  • encourage emotional expression but set clear limits on behaviour
  • help children think through possible solutions
  • don’t expect too much too soon
  • be aware of potentially difficult settings and be prepared to help the child through them
  • create situations where the child can explore without hearing lots of ‘don’ts’
  • catch the child doing lots of things right and praise them
  • make tasks as fun as possible e.g. with a young child, tidying up together