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November/December 2023

This Snapshot will explore information and tips on emotion coaching from the book "What to Say to Kids When Nothing Seems to Work" for parents of children aged 5 and up. This book helps adults connect with kids, understand their emotions, and respond effectively. It provides a framework to explore new ways of responding to your child that will help them calm down faster and boost their resilience to stress. It's a great resource for anyone navigating the twists, turns, and sometimes total chaos of life with kids!

Emotion coaching is an approach to parenting that involves recognizing, validating, and guiding children's emotions. This method helps children understand and manage their feelings, which in turn promotes emotional intelligence and resilience.

Emotion coaching is a universal strategy that can be used with children, adolescents, and  adults. It can defuse potential emotional outbursts and facilitate real connections between children and parents.
The main principles of emotion coaching are as follows:
  • Being Tuned In: Emotion coaching starts with parents being attuned to children's emotions. They actively listen and pay attention to a child's feelings, whether positive or negative.
  • Validating Emotions: Instead of dismissing or minimizing a child's feelings, emotion coaching involves acknowledging and validating them. This helps children feel heard and understood.
  • Empathy: When parents empathize with the child's emotional experience they let the child know that their feelings are normal and acceptable.
  • Setting Limits and Problem-Solving: While validating emotions, parents can also set appropriate limits or help the child find constructive ways to deal with their feelings. This involves guiding the child through problem-solving without judgment.
Emotion coaching can have a positive impact on the developing brain, particularly in children. It helps promote healthy emotional development and can affect the brain in several ways. 
Emotion Regulation: Emotion coaching (EC) teaches children how to regulate their emotions effectively. This practice has a calming effect on the brain's emotional centers, such as the amygdala, and helps children manage emotional responses more skillfully.

Neuroplasticity: EC promotes positive neuroplasticity, which is the brain's ability to reorganize and adapt throughout life. By teaching children to recognize and cope with emotions, it strengthens neural pathways associated with emotional intelligence.
Stress Reduction: EC can reduce stress in children. Chronic stress can harm the brain's structure and function, so learning to manage stress through emotion coaching can lead to a healthier brain.

Improved Cognitive Function: Emotional regulation and reduced stress allow the brain's prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making and impulse control, to function optimally. 
Enhanced Social and Communication Skills: EC enhances the brain's ability to understand and interpret social cues, leading to improved social and communication skills. This is particularly important for areas like the brain's social circuitry.

Neural Connectivity: EC promotes the development of strong neural connections that support empathy, self-awareness, and effective communication.
Ready to begin? First things first – check in with yourself. Are you calm? If not, take a breath. The breath is like the brain‘s remote control. It‘s definitely a powerful, yet undervalued resource that is readily available and will make it easier for you to engage in the steps of emotion coaching outlined below.
Step 1. Learning to Validate
The first skill of emotion coaching is to validate your child. You can do so by transforming the word “BUT to BECAUSE”.

For example, when your child tells you they feel sad about missing out on a family event, rather than leading with a typical response like:

“I can understand why you might feel sad but there‘s always next time.
You would first imagine why it would make sense for them to feel sad and then convey your
understanding using the word “because” such as: “I can understand why you might feel sad because you know you‘re going to miss out on the fun”
Validating your child's emotional experience – even if you don‘t personally agree – will have a calming effect for them. In fact, validation is most effective when it involves at least three “becauses”. For example…

“I can understand why you might feel sad because you know you‘re going to miss out on the fun; and because you were really looking forward to this; and because you don‘t know when you‘ll have another opportunity”. You don‘t need to use the word “because” each time, but it can help you to structure your validation until doing so becomes more natural.
Step 2: Support Meet the Emotional Need Once your child feels validated, you can then offer emotional support. Every emotion has a specific emotional need. If your child is sad, offer them comfort (e.g., a hug). If they feel angry, help them to communicate what it is they need (e.g., space, a boundary, to feel heard). If they feel shame or anxiety, you can now offer reassurance and practical support.

Note* When someone shares that they are struggling our society is conditioned to offer reassurance. However, providing reassurance WITHOUT validation is often ineffective, despite how often we feel pulled to do so. Conversely when preceded by deep validation, reassurance is much more likely to have the desired effect. 
Step 3: Support – Meet the Practical Need
Finally it’s time for problem-solving! When faced with an emotional challenge, most of us want
to move right to “fixing it”. However, if you skip over the steps above, you are likely going to
experience resistance to your efforts to solve the emotional problem. Your child may also
get frustrated, perhaps feeling like you aren’t listening. And so the order in which you move
through these steps is very important. Only after you’ve validated and offered emotional support
do you then support your child practically.
When using the steps of emotion coaching, the skill of validation is critical. It calms the brain and makes your child more open and flexible to comfort, reassurance, problem-solving - even redirection and limits. There will be times when you will notice that once you’ve deeply validated your child, meeting the emotional and practical need isn’t even necessary because they will feel calmer or will have figured out themselves what to do next. Be aware, however, that once you start to validate your child, they may initially react in the following ways: “Why are you talking to me like that?” “You can’t possibly understand.” “I’m not sad – I’m mad!”
Do not be discouraged by these types of responses. They are normal and to be expected when you initiate a new style of communication, especially if there is a history of strain in the
relationship. It’s actually a great sign that your child is feeling heard and is willing to share with you more than what was initially on the surface. Keep using the validation script and be sure to communicate three “becauses” each time and the emotional storm will soon pass.
Here are some helpful phrases to get you started. Communicating with your child may feel
unnatural at first, but it is like exercising a new muscle and it will get easier with time.
This Snapshot offers a general overview of emotion coaching. The video below and the resources, Emotion Coaching for Kids and Teens: Practicing with Scripts, Emotion Coaching Micro Skills and the book "What to Say to Kids When Nothing Seems to Work." will provide you with a more in depth understanding of emotion coaching if you are keen to learn more! 
This video was a live presentation featuring Dr. Ashley Miller, co-author of "What to Say to Kids When Nothing Seems to Work.". Dr Miller shares rapid and efficient strategies to navigate challenging moments, fostering resilience and nurturing stronger relationships between children and parents.

Still Want more? Emotion Focused Family Therapy for Caregivers Workshop

Supporting a loved one struggling with their mental health and/or wellness can be very challenging. Foundry Virtual BC has adopted Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) as one of our helping services. We believe that supporting caregivers with skills and tools promotes better wellness outcomes for all. 

Monday November 27th AND Monday December 4th - 9:00am – 4:00pm both days
To register or ask questions, email
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The content provided through the Snapshots is for informational purposes only. It includes general information and does not specifically address the diverse child rearing challenges parents and caregivers may encounter.  Readers are encouraged to verify information and consider their individual circumstances when making decisions. The content is not a substitute for professional advice.
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