Emotional coaching: A toolkit to help little kids cope with big emotions

Sad little girl

How do you raise an emotionally intelligent child with strategies for coping with big feelings? Early learning educator Anthony Semann says it all starts with slowing down and paying attention.

Name feelings, be open and aware

Anthony says that taking the time to tune into your child is an important first step in arming them with the coping skills, resilience and confidence they need.

“I think number one is to really connect with children,” Anthony said. “Be aware of your child’s emotions. Be open to what your child is going through.”

When children are experiencing big emotions, it’s an opportunity to provide some “emotional coaching”.

“Be aware of the language you’re using,” Anthony advises. “I’d use language that names the behaviour for that child. So saying things like, ‘It looks like you’re really upset, is that how you’re feeling?'”

“Start using that language and allow the child to respond. If they say ‘no’ or they walk away, give them breathing space and then resume that conversation. Always listen with empathy and tell that child – because you want to coach them on emotions – tell them it’s okay to feel that way.”

Listen to Anthony Semann on Feed Play Love


Let kids have big feelings

Anthony notes that parents might seek to buffer their child from difficult feelings, but that it’s not doing kids any favours. Learning to cope with all kinds of feelings is vital if we want children to become emotionally intelligent adults.

“We don’t want to stop children from being upset,” Anthony says. “We have enough men on this planet who don’t know how to deal with their emotions. So let’s just keep those emotions flowing.”

Accepting feelings and coaching children through their emotions helps them identify what’s going on and nurtures emotional literacy.

“We want to increase their emotional literacy and part of emotional coaching is allowing children to describe how they feel and then learning strategies to work through it, not to avoid it. It’s not avoiding being upset, it’s not avoiding crying, it’s not avoiding being happy,” Anthony explains. “As difficult as it is for parents to see their child upset, this is a great opportunity to talk about emotions to young children.”


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Incorporate emotional coaching

Anthony says emotional coaching is an excellent everyday strategy for parents.

“A coach is someone who to some degree imparts their wisdom their knowledge but also builds the capacity of another person. So I want to impart on my child the wisdom I have on emotions assuming we have our emotions all under control.”

“So walking out of the cinema with your child and saying, ‘You look like you’re really happy. Did you enjoy that? I did. Why? Did you love the story?'”

“We want to celebrate the great stuff and talk about that as much as we talk about the other stuff which ain’t so lovely,” Anthony explains, “because it just brings focus to the range the wide range of emotions that we experience in life.”

Little girl sad

Learn from tricky times

And when things aren’t quite so joyful, how can you turn tricky times into opportunities? Be up front and give tough times a little space.

“Go back a day later. Two days later … Friday night when you give them a bath and say, ‘You know I’m just thinking about Tuesday … We were in the car and you got a little bit upset. I’m just wondering how you’re feeling right now?'”

“I would just say, ‘You know I walked away feeling quite upset to see you upset because I love you. And we’re going to have moments like this you’re going to get upset again but I love that you calmed yourself down and we’re having a good time now.’ End of story.”

Mother holding sad baby

What else can parents do?

How else can parents foster emotional intelligence in themselves and their children? Anthony suggests the following:

  • Know what triggers your emotions as an adult around your child.
  • Identify what’s going on for you when your child’s behaviour is challenging. Is it shame, anger, feelings of inadequacy, something else? How can you address that?
  • Jump online and take an emotional intelligence test to figure out how emotionally intelligent you are.
  • Work out your strengths and the areas that you need to improve on, so in tandem your learning as your child’s learning.

Anthony says letting your child know that you’re still a work-in-progress and that you’re learning together can be really helpful too.

Saying, “I’m still trying to figure out how to stay calm like you. Know that we’re all, what I would call, ‘under construction’. We’re all learning.”

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