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Understanding how to be your child’s ‘emotions coach’

Posted on 19 November 2018

As a parent, you have a central role in helping your child learn and develop essential skills. It's not easy sometimes helping your child learn how to tolerate frustration, or learn how to calm down and behave acceptably in society. The best way for your child to develop positive emotional wellbeing is by developing a positive relationship with him or her. But sometimes we forget that these skills have to be learned just like reading, writing or riding a bicycle. Children aren’t very good at them to start with - it just involves lots of practice, and of course a patient and encouraging coach.

Become the encouraging coach

We come across opportunities to ‘coach’ our children every day, whether it’s playing with our children or by taking them to nursery or school. We also get many opportunities to ‘coach’ them just in our ordinary everyday lives. Yes we need to teach them to follow rules and behave well but it’s really by teaching our children how to manage feelings that good behaviour can fall into place. We often forget that children don’t have language sophisticated enough to express their feelings clearly (it’s hard enough sometimes as an adult to do this), so when children are young they live out their feelings through their behaviour.

Expressing feelings is learned just like learning to read

Learning to ‘read’ the language of their behaviour and zone in on the emotions behind it helps us to be a better coach.  If we can help our children learn over time to recognise, label and deal with their feelings appropriately, then their behaviour will gradually become more and more sociable and manageable.  

An example might be “It’s really disappointing when things don’t work out the way we want them to isn’t it? I think you are feeling really disappointed right now? Would you like a hug?” or “I know, it is really annoying when people do things like that, I’m not surprised you are cross, but it’s not okay to hit them. What could you say to let them know how their behaviour has affected you?”, or “You seem really frustrated, has anything happened?”

Listen to understand their feelings

An important part of developing your relationship with your child is by showing them that you are listening to them and that you understand that they are trying to communicate with you. You may not always know immediately what they are attempting to tell you but they will feel more secure knowing that you are open to hearing about their feelings, and interested in their experiences.

Listen to your own feelings too

Parents have often commented that at difficult times it is hard to look past their child’s behaviour and think about how their child is feeling. There may also be times when both you and your child might find feelings overwhelming. This is what makes parenting such a challenging task of course - children are not the only one with feelings! You may be having a hard time, or a bad day, yourself.  It is at these times that thinking logically, calmly and clearly is most difficult.

Finding support for yourself is an extremely important part of your emotional wellbeing. When you take care of your own emotions you may feel better able to help your child with theirs. Regaining a sense of calm may make what you thought was an unmanageable situation seem less difficult.

Dr Rebecca Johnson
Consultant Clinical Psychologist

To read more and download free leaflets, go to www.inourplace.co.uk/learn

There’s also information about paid online courses from an NHS Trust available to help understand children’s behaviour and to support them with their emotions.