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What Is Emotion Coaching?

In this podcast, renowned Australian psychologist, Andrew Fuller, chats with guest Marie Vakakis about emotion coaching and how it can be used with adolescents. A brief summary of the discussion can be found below. 

What is emotion coaching?

According to Marie Vakakis, emotion coaching is a parenting philosophy looking at how we learn and develop the ability to identify emotions and how we then behave in response to those emotions. These skills are learned in early to middle childhood and are then developed in adolescence.

This approach is related to cognitive behavioural therapy. It allows a person to feel their emotion, put a name to it, and then sit with that feeling.

Five basic steps of emotion coaching:

  1. Be aware of someone’s emotions
  2. See emotion as an opportunity to connect
  3. Listen with empathy and validate the feeling
  4. Help to label the emotion so it can be expressed
  5. Set boundaries and/or appropriate responses

The key to emotion coaching is moving away from punishment and moving towards curiosity about where a behaviour is coming from. As parents and educators, we don’t have to get it right all the time, but we need to move towards connection.

In teenagers, this leads to:

  • Greater communication skills
  • Lower risk-taking behaviour
  • Better friendships/relationship skills

This approach is growing in popularity as more and more parents are starting to recognise that they can play in positive wellbeing.

Some interesting points made in the podcast:

  • Emotion motivates behaviour. All emotions are acceptable, this does not mean that all behaviours are acceptable. Boundaries and consequences are still important, they are just more considered.
  • We have beliefs about our emotions, and these play out in the way we parent. For example, some parents believe it isn’t okay to be sad so they will try to rescue their children from upsetting experiences. Others may find pride unacceptable, so they inadvertently limit the amount of praise they give their children.
  • Many children, adolescents, and adults don’t recognise the physical experience of emotions, so they struggle to sit with those feelings.
  • As we start to recognise our emotions and we change the relationship we have with uncomfortable emotions there is often a feeling of overwhelm. This is because we are no longer numbing or ignoring our feelings. If we don’t acknowledge these emotions, we can develop inappropriate coping strategies and physical ailments such as immune deficiencies.
  • As a society, we are getting better at identifying our emotions. Now we need to learn it is okay to feel uncomfortable emotions. Tolerating discomfort is important as a degree of stress, anxiety, anger, upset, etc are a normal part of the human experience and these feelings can drive positive change.

Want to know more?

You can read more about emotion coaching in this article from our Knowing Girls blog. It will take you through the process step by step.

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