Tackling “Emotional” Coaching

 In Behavior

As I observed my seven-year-old son during football practice last Saturday, I was especially intrigued by his coach. Often the coach encouraged each of the boys through “high 5s” and “attaboys.” Other times he pulled the team together to explain a play. He would demonstrate a technique and model how it worked during play. Still other times he knelt beside an individual player to refine a specific skill. As these things unfolded before my eyes, I began to appreciate the coach’s wisdom. In addition, I began to think about how similar this experience is to emotional coaching.

One of the most important ways we can “coach” our children is to help them handle their emotions in healthy ways. The first step in this process is identifying an emotion using a “feeling word.” For example, when your child stubs a toe or loses a game, attach a feeling word to that experience. Incorporate these words into your daily vocabulary. For instance, “I wonder if losing a game makes you disappointed,” or “usually when I stub my toe I become hurt and frustrated,”  or “I feel afraid when I am separated from you.” Building this vocabulary not only helps children identify the internal process and communicate about it, but it begins to nurture a common language by which feelings can be addressed.

Once the emotions are identified, take time to acknowledge that ALL emotions are acceptable. Even though it may not be pleasant to feel frustrated, angry, hurt, discouraged, or jealous, they are all part of the human experience. Experiencing these emotions helps us to appreciate the times when we feel more positive. When your child expresses these emotions, resist diminishing the experience. Validate the emotions and allow time for them to process. In addition, it is important to label and celebrate the positive feelings including excited, surprised, or elated.

Finally, help your child express emotion in healthy ways. If your child is angry, create boundaries for that anger. “It is not okay for you to hurt yourself or anybody else, but you can draw an angry picture or take some deep breaths.” Modeling this process is essential. Tell your child how you process and express emotion.

While “emotion coaching” might not be as tangible as coaching football, this process will teach children skills that will inevitably benefit them for the rest of their lives.


Dr. Emilie DeYoung

Winning at Home

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