Supporting Children with Emotion Coaching
Emotion Coaching is a tool or approach in supporting children’s behaviour, emotional mental health and well-being. It is based on the work of John Gottman and colleagues in the USA. It emphasises the importance of considering the emotions which underlie particular behaviours ‘in the moment’, before dealing with limit setting and problem solving (Gottman et al., 1996). Emotion Coaching views all behaviour as a form of communication and makes an important distinction between children’s behaviour and the feelings that underlie that behaviour. A key belief is that all emotions are acceptable, but not all behaviour. Emotion Coaching is about helping children to understand their different emotions as they experience them, why they occur and how to handle them, leading to happier, more resilient, and well-adjusted children.
Gottman et al’s (1996) initial research on Emotion Coaching drew attention to less effective ways of supporting children’s emotional regulation and subsequent behaviour. Adults who are ‘disapproving’ or ‘dismissive’ of children’s emotions tend to ignore, criticize or reprimand affect displays, particularly intensive emotions, which may often manifest as challenging behaviour. Such adults may view stress-induced emotional expression as a form of manipulation, a form of weakness and/or something that should be avoided or minimized (collectively known as ‘emotion dismissing’). An emotion dismissing style, whether disregarding or punitive, has a negative impact on children’s emotional regulation and behavioural outcomes, which includes their mental and physical health (Gottman et al., 1996).
The 5 Essential Steps of Emotion Coaching
(John Gottmann Institute)
- Be aware of your child’s emotion
- Recognise your child’s expression of emotion as a perfect moment for intimacy and teaching
- Listen with empathy and validate your child’s feelings
- Help your child to learn to label their emotions with words
- Set Limits when you are helping your child to solve problems or deal with upsetting situations appropriately
Research on Emotion Coaching in England (Rose et al., 2015; Gus et al., 2015) complements the evidence base from the USA (Gottman et al., 1997, Katz et al., 2012, Shortt et al., 2010) and Australia (Havighurst et al, 2013, Havighurst et al, 2010), which points to the efficacy of Emotion Coaching in supporting emotional mental health, well-being and behaviour across the age range. (Havighurst et al., 2009) have highlighted how Emotion Coaching can contribute to children’s ‘Internal Working Models’. Internal Working Models are created in the first few years of life through the attachment relationships with caregivers. Through attuned, social interactions, caregivers guide children’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Attachment research has shown how ‘emotion-focused talk’ by the adult can teach children to use appropriate strategies to cope with stress, helping to build the architecture of their brains (Bowlby, 1998; Schore, 1994). This links to the idea of reflective functioning as well as to the work of Vygotsky (1986) and his notion of an ‘internal dialogue’.
Recently Somerset conducted a research in schools where Emotion Coaching was implemented, this research was made together with Bath SPA University, Institute for education, ehCAP (Innovative solutions for education, health, care and prison services) and Somerset Council. The full report was released in March 2016, the major outcomes and findings are as follows:
Feedback From Professionals who took Part on this Study
‘Has helped staff see from the viewpoint of the child, how to support them in communicating and understanding their emotions and the effect they have on their behaviour.’
‘I try now to take time to breathe before reacting to situations in the classroom.’
‘Because Emotion Coaching has clear steps and a ‘script’ it gives you a good framework to put it into practice.’
‘Using the ‘script’ has just helped to focus in on acknowledging the feeling and that it is alright to feel like that.’ ‘It has given me a checklist to use when faced with difficult behaviour.’
‘I feel empowered and confident in my practice.’
‘Feel more confident and well equipped in relating to people which makes me more likely to be able to help them.’
‘The staff have a greater confidence in approaching situations and a better understanding of what is driving the behaviour.’
A Significant Case Study
Professional role: Head of year, Secondary Education
Child/young person: 10 pupils in year 8 and 9 at risk of permanent exclusion
EC was used as a strategy to help mitigate the risk of permanent exclusion for these pupils
- Key staff teaching the pupils were given information on EC and the Head of year 8 was part of the research
- A parent information night about EC was held, but was very poorly attended
- Pupils also received training in EC
All but two of the children are no longer at risk os permanent exclusion
Notable changes are:
- The pupils are able to say how they are feeling and why
- Pupils regularly use the hand model
- Young people have become much better at identifying when they are about to ‘flip’
The frequency of being removes from class or pupils taking themselves out of class has dropped.
School Records from one of the pupils:
|Measure of emotional regulation||Term prior to EC||Term since EC|
|Use of ;safety net’||3||3|
|No. of internal exclusions||6||2|
|No. of Fixed term Exclusions||7||0|
Ref: (Janet Rose, Sarah Temple, Rebecca McGuire-Snieckus, Felicia Wood, & Olivia Vatmanides, 2016)
By developing children’s social and emotional skills children learn to self-regulate their emotions and in doing so they achieve their academic potential and thrive.
The Feelings Teacher works on developing the child’s emotional literacy by:
- Accepting and empathizing with emotions and emotional responses
- Identifying how the different emotions affect the child physically and how that looks in terms of behaviour
- Explaining Dan Siegel’s hand model of the brain and brain development
- Exploring sensory strategies that may work for the child
- Teaching the child to make decisions which support themselves
- Giving children and adults around them scripts and a clear structure on how to react, what to say during difficult situations
Once this has been identified, The Feelings Teacher collaboratively works out the best strategies to support self-regulations and problem solving.
Our implementation addresses key government policies which seek to raise the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils and improve provision for children and young people with social, emotional mental health difficulties (SEMH) (DfE, 2013; 2014). It addresses Ofsted’s new Common Inspection Framework in relation to pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare. Our programme promotes positive mental health and wellbeing for children and young people, have greater system co-ordination and generate a significant improvement in meeting the mental health needs of children and young people from vulnerable backgrounds.
Finally, it helps to address the concern about emotional health and wellbeing highlighted by the UK government and department of education related to COVID-19 recovery curriculum.
The Feelings Teacher programme also resonates with the recent report by Public Health England (2014) which showed that:
- Pupils with better health and wellbeing are likely to achieve better academically
- Effective social and emotional competencies are associated with greater health and wellbeing, and better achievement
- The culture, ethos and environment of a school influences the health and wellbeing of pupils and their readiness to learn
The Feelings Teacher Programme aim to work with a network of practitioners and families to:
- Promote the use of Emotion Coaching techniques by community groups in their everyday practice with children and young people
- Provide a framework for helping practitioners to manage their own emotional self-regulation
- Integrate mindfulness into practice
- Support children and young people’s capacity for pro-social behaviour and emotional self-regulation
Contact us today to find out more and schedule an appointment with Ines Gomes!