Emotion Coaching: To Help kids cope with negative feelings

Emotion coaching, as proposed by renowned psychologist John Gottman, is a transformative practice in parenting that involves tuning into children’s feelings and helping them cope with negative emotions like fear, anger, and sadness. This comprehensive guide explores the key components of emotion coaching and its significant impact on child development. Discover the practical strategies and tips for becoming a more effective emotion coach to foster a positive emotional environment for your child.

Why Emotion Coaching Matters

Understanding Children’s Emotional Reactions

Despite their small bodies, children experience intense emotional reactions, including anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear. Recognizing that young minds are works in progress, it’s essential to acknowledge that the parts of the brain specializing in self-regulation are still developing. Moreover, children lack the life experiences and emotional understanding that adults possess, making it crucial to provide them with opportunities to learn and practice coping mechanisms.

The Pitfalls of Dismissing, Disapproving, and Ignoring

When faced with a child’s distress, common parental reactions involve dismissing, disapproving, or ignoring their negative emotions. While well-intentioned, these approaches fail to teach children how to navigate their emotional storms effectively. Emotion coaching, however, offers a different perspective.

Parents embracing emotion coaching view their children’s bad moods as opportunities for connection and teaching. By taking the time to understand their child’s perspective, discussing emotions openly, and helping children label their feelings, emotion coaching sets the stage for developing effective strategies to deal with difficult emotions and triggering situations.

The Emotion Coaching Process

1. Notice Signs of Emotion Early

Being attuned to your child’s emotional state is the first step in effective emotion coaching. Instead of ignoring initial signs of frustration or disappointment, seize the opportunity to check in with your child. Open a dialogue about what might be bothering them, creating a foundation for understanding.

2. Listen, Validate, and Show Empathy

Maintaining calmness and empathy, listen to your child’s feelings and show understanding. Relate to their experiences by drawing parallels in your own life, reinforcing the idea that their emotions are acknowledged and respected.

3. Help Your Child Verbalize Emotions

Encourage your child to express their feelings with words. This process helps them not only communicate better with others but also promotes a more detached and analytical view of their emotions.

4. Allow Time to Calm Down

When strong emotions grip your child, resist the urge to problem-solve immediately. Emotions like anger and fear trigger a “fight or flight” response, inhibiting reasoning abilities. Give your child the space and time to calm down, ensuring signs of relaxation before addressing the situation.

5. Focus on Problem-Solving

Once your child is ready, shift the focus to problem-solving. Set limits, discuss acceptable behavior, and explore ways to prevent or handle future conflicts. This step reinforces the importance of constructive dialogue and helps children develop essential problem-solving skills.

The Evidence: Emotion Coaching’s Impact

Observational Studies

Observational studies consistently link emotion coaching with better child outcomes. Children who experience emotion coaching exhibit fewer emotional and behavioral problems, enhanced social skills, and improved peer relationships.

Experimental Evidence

Experimental studies support the effectiveness of emotion coaching. Training parents in emotion coaching techniques has shown positive outcomes in children with behavior problems. Even brief reminders of emotion coaching principles can have a notable impact, leading to increased emotional sensitivity and resilience in children.

Tips for Becoming a Better Emotion Coach

1. Prioritize Your Well-being

Maintain a calm and empathetic approach by looking after your own needs. It’s crucial not to take your child’s misbehavior personally.

2. Seize Everyday Opportunities

Engage in conversations about feelings and their triggers regularly. Studies suggest that children who discuss emotions and their causes develop better emotional competence.

3. Avoid Ignoring or Trivializing Feelings

Even during temper tantrums, step back, and avoid intervention until emotions subside. Once calm, discuss your child’s feelings, making it clear that their emotions are acknowledged.

4. Instill a Constructive Mindset

Communicate to your child that improvement is possible with practice. Take a constructive approach to correcting mistakes, fostering a hopeful mindset.

5. Enrich Coaching with Research-Based Insights

Use evidence-based tips to teach your child to overcome negative impulses and emotions effectively.

6. Beware of Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritative parenting, emphasizing emotional warmth and reasoning, is linked to the best outcomes. Avoid stern and dictatorial approaches that can lead to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem in children.


In conclusion, emotion coaching emerges as a powerful tool in nurturing a child’s emotional well-being. This comprehensive guide has provided insights into the key components of emotion coaching, its impact backed by evidence, and practical tips for becoming a more effective emotion coach. By embracing emotion coaching, parents can contribute significantly to their child’s emotional competence and overall development.

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