How to Engage in Emotion Coaching

Emotion coaching gets to the heart of your child’s feelings and behaviors.

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When Dr. John Gottman began his research exploring and identifying the best methods for raising an emotionally intelligent child, most of the psychological literature available on parenting centered on managing behavior. Dr. Gottman undertook a variety of scientific studies. They led him to the conclusion that the key to good parenting lies in understanding the emotional source of problematic behavior. He conducted research on children whose parents interacted with their emotions in various styles. The conclusions he reached were striking.

Dr. Gottman identified four “types” of parents in his research that reflect stereotypes:

The Dismissing Parent disengages, ridicules, or curbs all negative emotions. They feel uncertainty and fear feeling out of control. They use distraction techniques and the passage of time as a cure-all replacement for problem-solving.

  • Effects: Children learn that there is something wrong with them, cannot regulate their emotions, believe that their feelings are inappropriate, not right, and abnormal.

The Disapproving Parent is similar to the dismissing parent but more negative, critical, controlling, manipulative, and authoritative. They are overly concerned with discipline and unconcerned with emotional expression.

  • Effects: Similar to the dismissing parenting techniques.

The Laissez-Faire Parent is endlessly permissive and offers little to no guidance about problem-solving or understanding emotions. They do not set limits on behavior. They also encourage the “riding out” of emotions until they are out of the way.

  • Effects: Kids can’t concentrate, get along with others, nor regulate their emotions in a healthy way.

The fourth and last “type” of parent identified by Dr. Gottman is not a common stereotype. This parent is what Dr. Gottman calls The Emotion Coach.

The five essential steps of Emotion Coaching are as follows:

    • Be aware of your child’s emotion
    • Recognize your child’s expression of emotion as a perfect moment for intimacy and teaching
    • Listen with empathy and validate your child’s feelings
    • Help your child learn to label their emotions with words
    • Set limits when you are helping your child to solve problems or deal with upsetting situations appropriately

Effects of Emotion Coaching: Your child’s mastery of understanding and regulating their emotions will help them to succeed in life in a myriad of different ways. They will be more self-confident, perform better in social and academic situations, and even become physically healthier.

The next time your child expresses negative emotions about something or misbehaves, try the following exercises:

  • Show your child respect and understanding in moments when they feel misunderstood, upset, or frustrated. Talk through their feelings with them and try to understand their source.
  • Be aware of your child’s responses to your method of working through the moment with them.
  • In difficult interactions, show empathy by patiently validating their feelings and getting to the root of their expression.
  • Instead of focusing on you, show your child that you respect their attempts to solve problems. Guide them with trust and affection. Work through these experiences together.

These exercises can help you to form a closer connection to your child.

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Ellie Lisitsa is a former staff writer at The Gottman Institute. She holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

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