Emotion coaching employs a relational approach to enabling children to support and manage their own behaviour. This is based on the work of Gottman and colleagues (Gottman et al, 1996), who argued that traditional behaviourist approaches ignored the internal experience of the child and only offered external frameworks without helping the child to manage their emotions.

Emotion coaching draws many of its concepts from two psychological schools of thought: attachment theory and neuroscience.

Attachment Theory
Human attachment involves the four S’s that we need to feel: Seen, Safe and Soothed to feel Secure. Children who have experienced past trauma or have an insecure attachment style may struggle to regulate their emotions or may not learn consistent responses to emotions. This impacts them throughout development and into their adult life.

Each of us has mirror neurons which are nerve cells that fire when we watch someone perform an action. Emotion coaching uses empathetic language and actions to encourage a child to do this themselves; and mirror neurons are why this works.

A child’s automatic nervous system consists of the Sympathetic Nervous System (PNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS deals more with the fight or flight response, and cannot work at the same time as the PNS, which is more related to thinking and assessing information before acting. Vagal Tone is how well your fight/flight response and vagus nerve are balanced and work together (Porges, 1995), and develops through a combination of attachment, environment and the ability to calm oneself. Children with poorer Vagal Tone are more likely to activate the SNS.

How to do it?
• Step one: Empathising
Start by genuinely empathising with the child and connecting with them before correcting them. Try to identify how they are feeling and label the emotion for them. Simply observe what you see without correcting to start with, allow the child to calm down and connect with you prior to moving on to step two.

• Step two: Setting Limits
Whilst you are validating the emotion, you must let the child know that certain behaviours cannot be accepted. It is important to separate the emotion and the behaviour: I understand that you’re angry about what happened, but doing this is not okay

• Step three: Exploration and problem-solving
Work with the child or young person to reflect on what they did and what they can do differently in the future. We can do this by offering choices, for example; “you can work with me out here, or you can work in there with Kate”. Alternatively, we can ask the child or young person to lead and ask them what they could have done differently or could do differently in the future, for example: “next time you’re feeling like this, what could you do?”

For more info see: https://www.emotioncoachinguk.com/

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