Psychology Melbourne Blog

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Raising resilient children - how to be an emotion coach

Edited by Jill Wright,

raising resilient children - how to be an emotion coach

Parents often find themselves in situations where they need to help children manage difficult feelings.

Imagine this scenario: David is an eight-year-old boy who normally enjoys going to soccer training. You're ready to leave and you go to his bedroom to find him crying on his bed. He says "I'm not going! You can't make me go!" He then mumbles something about other kids laughing at his kicking style.

As a parent, there are a number of ways you could respond:

  • You could say something like, "Don’t be silly David. It's only soccer training. I got laughed at all the time when I was your age. It doesn’t matter. Get your boots and let's go."
  • You could say, "No tears, David! Stop crying or I won't take you to McDonald's for dinner afterwards."
  • You could sit with David and let him cry, accepting that you will be late and perhaps offer an incentive for going to soccer.

Four types of parenting styles

Dr John Gottman, in his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, describes four broad types of parenting styles.

1. Dismissing parent

In this parenting style, a child's experiences and emotions are often dismissed, minimised or treated as unimportant. This can leave children feeling that their emotions are not valid and that there may be something wrong with them because of the way they feel. The first response is an example of the dismissing parent.

2. Disapproving parent

The second response is an example of the disapproving parent, who makes the child feel like they should not feel the way they do and that his emotional expression is unacceptable. In this example there is also a negative consequence attached to the expression of emotion.

3. Laissez-faire parent

The third response is an example of the “laissez-faire” style. This parent encourages and allows emotional expression, however there is no problem-solving or guidance on how to actually manage emotion. As a result the child does not develop the skills to regulate their emotions effectively.

4. Emotion coach

The emotion-coaching parent would see this scenario as a good opportunity to connect with their child.

The emotion coach allows the child to express their emotions and empathises with them. They also help them to articulate what is wrong and they work with them to look for solutions.

In the above example, they might comfort the child and say something like, "David, I can see that you're really upset. What's happened?" After listening to him they might say "We have to go in a few minutes, but let's think about some ways that you can deal with this..."

With this response style, the child’s emotions are validated and he is supported to find ways of dealing with the situation. He is helped to regulate his emotions and build problem- solving skills.

Raising Resilient Children workshops

Want to learn more about how emotion-coaching can help your child manage difficult emotions?

Psychology Melbourne is holding two "Raising Resilient Children" workshops for parents in May and June.

For more information

Psychology Melbourne is staffed by expert clinical, education and counselling psychologists who can provide assistance and training for parents. Contact us today.


About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the APS Victorian branch Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.

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