Did you know that there is a 5-step solution to reducing anger outbursts in children? Would you believe us if we told you there was a whole lot of research to support this? We can assure you it is true! Dr John Gottman of the University of Washington developed a 5-step strategy and called it ‘Emotion Coaching’. Unlike other ways of managing children’s behaviour, Dr Gottman focused on the emotion that underlies the behaviour itself. It was a move away from punitive approaches and toward helping children to understand their emotions and then make more positive decisions about their behaviour.
Research suggests that parents who emotion coach tend to have children who are more able to manage their emotions and soothe themselves when feeling distressed or angry. There is also research evidence that suggests emotion coaching leads to children with more quality peer relationships, greater academic achievement and less behaviour problems.
Emotion coaching is easy to do, effective and costs nothing. Simply follow these 5 steps:
- Become aware of emotion:
Take steps to become aware of what your child is feeling in any given moment.
Take note of their behaviour, their facial expressions and what they say. Take time to ‘tune in’ to your child.
- Use emotional moments as a way to connect:
Look at your child’s emotions as an opportunity to connect. Emotions are an opportunity for building intimacy and to foster learning. Set time aside to sit with your child and talk to them about their emotions. You might think of some fun and creative ways to do this. Drawing pictures or telling stories might work nicely for younger children. Talking openly about some of your own ‘lower end’ emotions (such as minor stress or day-to-day annoyance) can help to normalise talking about emotions. The most important thing to do is to take your child’s emotions seriously and do your best to understand where your child is coming from.
- Listen and validate:
Let your child know that you are listening. It is important that they feel heard and to feel like you accept their emotions. Try not to respond strongly or to outwardly judge any emotions that are different than what you might have expected. The key here is to give the child a validating experience. We want them to feel like their emotions are important and manageable.
- Help your child identify and label emotions:
Help your child pick words to describe what they are feeling. Talk about the range of emotions and what it means when people feel them. Very young children can find it hard to label their emotions. If this is the case, you can hang a poster with ‘feelings faces’ on the fridge or somewhere the child can easily see. Encourage the child to point to the face that best reflects how they are feeling. There are many royalty free images of ‘feelings faces’ that can be found easily through a quick Google search.
- Explore solutions/problem-solve:
Sometimes problems your child is facing have solutions. Sometimes they do not, and we need simply to acknowledge their emotions. Where possible, supporting your child to problem solve can be a helpful way to teach children how to respond differently in the same or similar situations in future. For more detailed guidance regarding problem solving-see our problem solving blog.
- Do not use emotion coaching if the situation requires you to be more directive. If your child is in immediate danger then emotion coaching is not the best tool at that time.
- Remind your child that although all FEELINGS are acceptable, not all BEHAVIOURS are. For example, hurting someone else because you are angry is not ok. Help your child to differentiate between what they feel and how they act.
- Emotion coaching is intended to be used when your child is experiencing emotions at a low or moderate intensity. Try to avoid using emotion coaching if your child is experiencing high or very high levels of emotion. It is unlikely to work. The child should be calm enough to be able to think about the situation in a logical way.
We encourage parents who attend Sydney Children’s Practice to use emotion coaching because there is research evidence to support its effectiveness. We are always happy to work with families where there are anger outbursts in children. Often this reflects underlying emotions such as worry or sadness. Give us a call if anger is causing issues in your family.