Ask a foster care expert: Emotion coaching

April 26, 2016

Children and young people in care can often deal with extreme feelings and have difficulty managing their subsequent behaviours. Emotion coaching is a research-based five-step process developed by Dr. John Gottman (US psychology researcher). It teaches children and young people how to recognise their emotions and healthy ways to express them.

Step 1: Be aware of emotions

Be mindful of the emotions of the child or young person in your care, as well as your own. Pay attention to body language, facial gestures and behavioural changes to see how feelings are expressed and how the child responds to emotions such as anxiety, sadness, anger and excitement. This will help you identify their feelings before the child begins exhibiting misbehaviour.

Step 2: Connect with the child

Try not to reject a child’s emotions, even difficult ones such as anger or jealousy. Instead, accept the emotions and encourage the child to discuss these emotions with you. These moments are opportunities to build a connection and to teach the child emotional awareness. Help the child or young person verbalise their feelings, if need be use a tool such as feeling cards.

Step 3: Listen to the child

Listening is an essential part of emotion coaching. Validate the child or young person’s feelings and tell them that you accept their feelings and you are taking them seriously. Encourage them to try and talk about what they are experiencing.

Step 4: Name the emotions

Labelling emotions and helping the child recognise what they are feeling can help reduce frustration. Do this by helping them learn how to recognise and verbalise their feelings. Help the child name the feelings they appear to be experiencing, rather than telling them what they should be feeling.

Step 5: Limit setting and solution finding

Emotion coaching focuses on preventing misbehaviour when possible. When a child is entering into a situation where they are likely to become frustrated, help them identify ways to manage their frustration ahead of time. Remember that emotions and behaviours are not the same thing. For example, it is OK to feel angry but it is not OK to hit others when you are angry.

If the child or young person misbehaves, encourage them to identify the feeling that led to the behaviour. Then teach problem-solving skills and work together on finding creative solutions to deal with emotions. A child who tends to throw things when they feel angry could be encouraged to create a list of more appropriate behaviours they can do when the feel mad.

Try and catch the child being good as often as possible, then use this as an opportunity to praise and encourage positive behaviour. Set limits when necessary but make sure that children understand any negative consequences are due to their behaviour and not their feelings.

Emotion coaching will require a lot of practise. Sometimes you may only be able to reach step two, while other times you may get all the way to step five. Every child is different and you will have to decide the best way to apply the emotion coaching process to your child.

MacKillop case workers are always here to work with you and can further discuss behavioural strategies for children and young people. If there is a topic you would like to see featured on ‘Ask a foster care expert’please email



Please reload

Featured Posts

Home Care providers need to ensure they have implemented the changes requiremented for this financial year, including but not limited to putting up th...

Home Care changes deadline approaches

June 16, 2020

Please reload

Recent Posts
Please reload