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Emotional Coaching with children

Updated: Feb 13, 2021

When parents/caregivers practice Emotional Coaching it is helpful in the child-parent goals of establishing rules that children will respond to. When one recognizes the strengths emotional coaching will give to parents/caregivers it becomes easier for a child to respond in the way one is expecting.

Today I got to experience and do some emotional coaching with a 3-year-old. During our playtime a large 4-wheeler drove in the community access in the back yard, he was on the playground, and the noise startled him.

First I have to remember that children at this age have a hard time distinguishing between what is real and what is not also they are learning about the world by their own interpretations, which are not the same as an adult.

This is what I did to help him

Taking the 5 steps from Gottman

  1. Notice the child’s emotion- The 3-year-old is scared of the noise – he is screaming and crying and shaking at the loud sound, looking at me to comfort him but will not run to me or allow me to take him away from his frozen state. His eyes are pierced upon the fast, loud yellow vehicle his gaze is not ready to make a decision to stay or run.

  2. Make them feel understood- I ask him to come to see me, and he shakes his head, but when the 4-wheeler is gone he takes the steps and runs to me. I say to him, to help him understand we can talk about what just happened. " What was that? He says it was "a lawnmower." I said, "I do not think so", he yelled, "yes it was!". I said, "ok. Because I needed to respect his viewpoint.

  3. Help a child verbally label how they are feeling- I said," did that make you happy, angry, or scared?", he said, "scared" I said. "Why?" he just shook like he just experienced a trip through a haunted house. He did not know why. I said, "Wow! That was big and loud!" he said, "yes." I asked if it "was slow or fast." he said, "fast." He was starting to calm down because we created a dialogue about the big scary lawnmower.

  4. Help them understand the feeling are coming from – I said, it's gone now are you ok. He said yes. He looked around to see if the 4-wheeler was back, and when he discovered it was not he resumed play. I was witnessing him looking around for the lawnmower to appear again. I decided to take an extra step for him to realize what the lawnmower really was. I asked him if he had ever seen a lawnmower like that before, he said, "no" I asked him why he was scared, he shrugged his shoulders, then I said. well let's learn more about the lawnmower because you might be scared because you haven't seen one before. he said, "No" Even though he said no, I had a plan.

  5. Help them to problem solve, – To help this child realize it was not going to attack him, The further action included walking over to the lawnmower. I did not tell him I just said, "let's go for a walk". He had agreed, the 4-wheeler belonged to the neighbor. When we arrived at the driveway to the house, I didn't see the 4-Wheeler but I did see other large vehicles. A time to teach some new vocabulary. In the front of the house, I said, I spy something gray." he said, " a car" I said, oh, I see that this car has 4 wheels" I spy something black." He said, "A truck" I said "the truck is big and also have 4 big wheels." We were identifying different vehicles. I said, " I see a boat" I asked, does it have wheels? he said, "no wheels." We knocked at the door I explained to the kind women who answered that he was startled by the 4-wheeler and he thinks it is a lawnmower. She invited us in to see the vehicle. I said, "touch the big wheels", and he did. He smiled, I said, "it has 4 big tires", he said, "yes. "I asked him again, "how many tires does it have," he said, 4. I said, "it has a seat so only one person can ride on it." He smiled, and said "yes". I asked him what is it? " he said, "I don't know." I said, it was "a 4 wheeler" he repeated the word "a four-wheeler." We thanked the family and left. The 3-year-old just talked about the 4-wheels on the way back with a happy face. To help him process the information, we drew a picture of the 4-wheeler and made some noise. He is no longer shaking like a leaf in the wind afraid of the lawnmower. The neighbor was so kind to us I haven't heard the sound 4-wheeler since. Maybe they realized without saying something that it really doesn't' need to be in my backyard, a great way for the community to come together.

When we teach a child about their fears it reflects our kindness and during this lesson, he learned we can investigate what the loud noise is by asking questions and seeing for one's own eyes.

Children come into the World with different temperaments. During emotional coaching, if parents adjust their responses to match a child's temperament it will help them adjust to different situations. When we observe children we may think they need to change if they are shy, introverts, talkative, extroverts, aggressive, bossy, show a lot of passion, passion, easygoing, sensitive, thinker, or a few combined. It is not healthy for parents to think they can change their temperaments or insist on a different response. All humans have a different take upon what they see and how they will react. In reflection, yes of course they do need to learn social skills however the temperaments are what they are born with, they cannot control their response because it is part of their character. Temperament Responses Prepare to be active in understanding their temperaments and adjust one's response accordingly. If they need a little more time to adjust then allow it. If they need to run find a way for them to become active between transitions. Or they may have a learning disability then seek professional help, If you don't like how they are behaving then change the situation. Create situations that match their personalities. They cannot change their temperament's but parents and caregivers can change their responses. The child cannot control their temperament because it is innate to their character, Laurence Steinberg calls it an inborn nature. Parents must learn to adapt to the child's nature.

References: Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman, “Parenting with Emotion Coaching” and “Emotional Health” YouTube, uploaded in 2021, Lisitsa, E. (2020, October 30). Emotion Coaching Step 5: Helping the Child Problem Solve and Setting Limits. The Gottman Institute. [Yellow four wheeler]. (n.d.). Retrieved from Steinberg, L. (2017). The ten basic principles of good parenting. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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