12 March 2020

Name the emotion and acknowledge the child's feelings

Emotion coaching. You may have heard of it, but do you know what it is and how you can use it effectively in your school?

Children struggle to identify and manage their feeling. They may have meltdowns, swear, sulk or behave in a manner that we find challenging. That is what we see and hear. It makes us react in different ways, perhaps shouting back, threatening sanctions, being sarcastic or dismissive. But there is an alternative approach which has proved to be more effective.

Body language, facial expressions, gesture and tone of voice are how we communicate our inner feelings to the outside world. The central nervous system is made up of both the brain and the spinal cord so what goes on in our heads affects our bodies too. This is why when people think they are in danger their muscles tense, their voices get louder and hoarser, and they seem to be physically larger and more threatening.

Step 1

Start with yourself. You need to recognise the child's feelings and your own emotions. If you are angry or frightened, you cannot support and communicate with the student. So, stop for a minute to give yourself time, then engage with the child calmly.

Step 2

Acknowledging and naming the child's feelings has been shown to be a useful way of helping them to re-engage their 'thinking brain'. If Jonny has hit a child, we may say, 'I wonder if you are feeling angry because Tom took your ball’. Labelling the emotion helps Jonny to develop their emotional literacy and it also validates the emotion Jonny is experiencing.

Step 3

This is where we put boundaries in place. 'I can see that you are feeling angry because Tom took your ball, but it is not ok to hit Tom. This is not the right thing to do’.

Step 4

This is the problem-solving step. This is helping children to scaffold strategies they can put in place to repair relationships and/or learn to self-regulate their feelings. This step supports the child to identify how they can implement more healthy coping strategies in the future to manage the intense emotions they are feeling.


Top Tips:

Step 1 and 2 is a must, you do not always need to do step 3 and 4, especially if the child is still experiencing emotional distress.

Don’t tell the child how they are feeling “you are feeling angry”. Instead use curious language like “I wonder if you are feeling angry”. Let’s face it, we get more irritated when someone tells us how we are feeling – and you might be wrong.

Research has shown that children who have learnt how to control their impulses via Emotion Coaching are more motivated, happier, more resilient and make better progress at school. It is a much healthier option than zero tolerance and isolation booths.

Find out more about Emotion Coaching from Licett Gus (Co-Founder of Emotion Coaching) on EduPod.


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