Big feelings like frustration, embarrassment, worry, fear and anger can be difficult emotions for kids to process. Young children don’t yet have the words to describe their feelings and, therefore, use other ways to get them across. Tantrums, crying spells, facial expressions – these are all methods young children will use to express their emotions. As kids get a little older they may just become quiet and withdrawn when feelings overwhelm them.

Parents’ Emotional Responses To Children Matter

One of the most important life skills a child can develop is the ability to identify and then talk about their feelings. Dr. John Gottman, world-renowned for his work on parenting, marital stability and divorce prediction, observed how parents respond to their children’s emotions in an effort to understand how emotional intelligence develops. In his research, Gottman found that parents respond to children’s emotions one of four possible ways:

  1. Dismissing parents see children’s emotions as unimportant and attempt to eliminate them quickly, often through the use of distraction.
  2. Disapproving parents see negative emotions as something to be squashed, usually through punishment.
  3. Laissez-faire parents accept all emotions from child, but fail to help the child solve problems or put limits on inappropriate behaviors.
  4. Emotion coaching parents value negative emotions, are not impatient with a child’s expression of them, and use emotional experience as an opportunity for bonding by offering guidance through labeling emotions and problem-solving the issue at hand.
5 Steps To Coaching Your Child’s Emotional Growth

Dr. Gottman’s research revealed that the children of parents who emotion coach are physically healthier, do better in school and get along better with friends. And, as an added bonus, emotion coaching strengthens your relationship with your child. If you want to help your child learn to manage his or her emotions, you can follow Gottman’s Five Steps of Emotion Coaching. Emotion coaching parents follow five basic steps to help their children with emotions. 

  1. Be aware of your child’s emotion
  2. Recognize emotion as an opportunity for connection or teaching
  3. Help your child verbally label emotions
  4. Communicate empathy and understanding
  5. Set limits and problem solve

There are some wonderful ways to support this emotion coaching work and help your child connect with it more deeply. For example, the Ninja Focus app is built around helping kids identify and process emotions. Each time they open the game-like app, it prompts them to share how they’re feeling and then guides them to an appropriate tool to help manage it. This could be a brief meditation, deep breathing exercise or a yoga flow (just to name a few). Download the app for free today and see just how helpful it will be as you work on emotion coaching.