Coaching your kids’ emotions

Emotion coaching is a strategy parents can use to teach their kids about healthy emotion expression. During emotion coaching, parents openly discuss and validate the feelings their child expresses. Parents encourage their kids to find ways to calm themselves when a wave of strong emotion hits. Kids whose parents practice emotion coaching have better self-control and fewer behavioral problems.  

You engage in emotion coaching when you’re actively and purposefully responsive to your child’s emotions. It requires you to be aware of your child’s emotional state. It also challenges you to see emotions as an important part of your child’s experience. During emotion coaching, you accept those feelings and teach your child how to manage positive and negative emotions.

Practice emotion coaching

Think about how aware you are of your child’s emotions. Can you tell when your child is upset, disappointed, or excited? Can you read their facial expressions and tone of voice? Get in touch with how your child displays emotions. It’s okay if you’re not completely sure what emotion is being expressed. As long as you’re aware your child is expressing some feelings, you’re primed to begin emotion coaching.

Then, when your child begins to display an emotion—verbally or physically—talk about it! This goes for positive and negative emotions. Help your child recognize how they're feeling. You might say, “It seems you’re feeling…” Express that you understand how your child could feel the way they do. You might say, “I can understand how this situation might make you feel that way.” Explain the causes and consequences of emotions and reactions. You might say, “You feel so excited about the news of our trip to Disneyland, you want to run around in circles!” or “If you get so angry that you break your toy, what might happen next?”

If needed, talk about how your child can calm down or what to do to help them feel better. You might say, “You seem to be getting very upset. Let’s take some deep breaths together to help you calm down.” Or you might say, “You’re so happy and have a lot of energy you need to burn. Let’s do some jumping jacks!” Problem-solve the emotion, encourage your child to try a few different things to help them feel better or calmer, and see what works.

Some phrases you might use while emotion coaching include:

  • “It seems you’re feeling sad about this. Is that the case?”
  • “You look frustrated. Is that how you feel?”
  • “I can see that you’re angry right now. Is there anything else you’re feeling?”
  • “It seems to me you’re unhappy, but I want to hear from you how you feel.”
  • “Tell me how you’re feeling, and what’s going on with you right now.”

Some phrases to avoid saying while emotion coaching include:

  • “Quit whining, you’re fine.”
  • “Stop behaving this way.”
  • “Get over it.”
  • “You’re overreacting.”
  • “You’re not upset.”
  • “It’s not a big deal.”

Bottom line

Children learn about showing emotions by watching and listening to their parents. Emotion coaching is a way for you to deliberately teach your child healthy emotional expression. This strategy helps kids feel understood and increases connections between parents and children. Emotion coaching teaches kids that feelings are acceptable, and it enables them to learn how to control their expression of emotions.

For more resources on this topic, check out Sesame Street for Military Families’ Self-expression section. Parenting for Veterans also offers a module on Helping Your Child with Difficult Emotions and Behavior.

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