Emotion Coaching – helping children to regulate their emotions.
Updated: Nov 7, 2022
Dr Francesca Heffernan talks about the importance of emotion coaching and how now is a really good time to start practicing emotion coaching with your children and young people…
What is emotion coaching?
Emotion Coaching gives adults steps to respond to children’s emotions ‘in the moment’ which helps children develop emotional regulation skills over time. Initially developed by John Gottman in relation to parenting, Emotion Coaching has since been promoted and researched in relation to education, for example by Janet Rose, Licette Gus and Louise Gilbert in the UK.
The principles of Emotion Coaching are rooted in psychological research and evidence, including (but not limited to): Paul Eckman’s work on core emotions, Dan Siegal’s work on brain functioning, Steven Porges’ work on the links between vagal tone and attachment, Bowlby’s attachment theory, Ginott’s work on (child and adult) congruent communication and research on parenting styles.
Its benefits go beyond helping children to regulate their emotions, with evidence suggesting it can help to improve academic achievement and social and behavioural skills. Emotion Coaching has also been found to benefit adults who work with children, for example adults have felt they are more sensitive to children’s needs, more able to respond consistently to children’s behaviour, more ‘in control’ during incidents and that they have more positive relationships with children (research at Bath Spa university, link below).
The importance of Emotion Coaching
I believe Emotion Coaching is important for a number of reasons:
It recognises the shared, relational experience of emotion and empowers adults to model emotional regulation and coregulate emotions with the child.
It recognises and teaches that emotional expression is normal and natural and focusses on how to help children learn prosocial ways to express their emotion which is a key life skill.
It teaches children to recognise and regulate their emotions internally rather than relying on rewards and consequences (the behaviourist response), which will empower children to transition more successfully into adult life.
The steps of Emotion Coaching are informed by critical engagement with interpersonal neurobiological research that that has explored how children develop emotional regulation skills over time.
It focusses on emotional regulation ‘in the moment’ in real life situations which helps children to understand the importance of emotional regulation in their own life and to generalise the skills they learn.
It empowers children to understand their emotional processes and learn how to regulate these themselves, with adult support.
It is an approach that parents, carers and all school adults can all use which promotes consistency across environments.
It is an evidence-based approach that can be used alongside and complementary to other approaches, for example emotional literacy work and rewards and consequences approaches.
Emotional dysregulation during Covid-19
The current pandemic has left us all a little dysregulated but emotions in children and young people can be particularly affected and so I believe Emotion Coaching is really important now because:
More children may be feeling emotionally dysregulated at this time and may be finding it hard to understand their emotional processes because the reasons for their dysregulation are likely to be complex and significantly influenced by the emotional messages they are receiving from their environment.
Cohorts of children would benefit from an Emotion Coaching response at the moment as COVID-19 is a shared, community experience (although responses to it will be influenced by individual processes and individual differences).
It is particularly important at times where people are feeling emotionally dysregulated to model emotional regulation and support children to regulate their emotions successfully.
Emotion Coaching will also help adults to reflect on and regulate their own emotional processes and through this be able to be more child centred.
How can we practice emotion coaching?
Whilst it is best to have some training on emotion coaching from a qualified professional the basic steps can be practiced by adults at home or in school:
For more information or to book training on Emotion Coaching, talk to your educational psychologist or contact the team on email@example.com
Bath Spa University research (accessed June 2020): https://www.bathspa.ac.uk/schools/education/research/emotion-coaching/
Baumrind, D. (1975). Early Socialisation and the Discipline Controversy. Morristown, NJ, General Learning Press.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss. Volume 1: Attachment. Harmondsworth, Penguin.
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and Loss. Volume 2: Separation. Harmondsworth, Penguin.
Eckman, P. (1999). ‘Facial expressions’, in Dalgleish, T. and Power, M. J. (eds). Handbook of Cognition and Emotion. New York, John Wiley and Sons Ltd.
Ginott, H.G (1972). Teacher and Child: A book for parents and teachers. New York, NY: Macmillan.
Gottman, J. (1997) Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. Simon & Schuster, New York.
Gottman, J. M., Katz, L. F., and Hooven, C. (1996). ‘Parental meta-emotion philosophy and the emotional life of families: Theoretical models and preliminary data’. Journal of Family Psychology, 10(3), 243 - 268.
Gus, L., Rose, J., Gilbert, L. and Kilby, R., 2017. The introduction of emotion coaching as a whole school approach in a primary specialist social emotional and mental health setting: Positive outcomes for all. The Open Family Studies Journal, 9(1).
Gus, L. and Gilbert, L. (2019). Staffordshire Virtual School: Attachment & Trauma and Emotion Coaching Training Final Report.
Gus, L. (2018). Supporting adults to develop Emotion Coaching in Schools. Kingsbury Schools Together Emotion Coaching Training Project Evaluation Report.
Porges, S.W. and Furman, S.A., 2011. The early development of the autonomic nervous system provides a neural platform for social behaviour: A polyvagal perspective. Infant and child development, 20(1), pp.106-118.
Rose, J., Gilbert, L. and McGuire-Snieckus, R., 2015. Emotion Coaching-a strategy for promoting behavioural self-regulation in children/young people in schools: A pilot study. The European Journal of Social & Behavioural Sciences, 13, pp.1766-1790.
Rose, J., McGuire-Snieckus, R., Gilbert, L. and McInnes, K., 2019. Attachment Aware Schools: the impact of a targeted and collaborative intervention. Pastoral Care in Education, 37(2), pp.162-184.
Siegel, D.J. and Bryson T.P. (2012). The Whole-Brain Child. London, Constable and Robinson.