Emotion Coaching and Self-Regulation


Emotion Coaching provides a framework for helping adults, children and young people to understand what is happening when we feel a strong emotion and how to self-regulate the behaviour that can come out of these emotions.


Emotions are a very important part of how we navigate our way through life. They enable us to function in a safe way, gauge situations and most importantly, help us to form positive, lasting relationships.The more we understand our emotions the better we are at responding to them in a way that benefits us and the people around us.


At times of stress we can often allow our emotions to literally take over our behaviour. Sometimes this is necessary, such as when we have to avoid a collision or respond to something life threatening. However, at other times the behaviour that emerges from our emotions, such as anger, can be negative and destructive in the way it affects us and impacts on others.



The Neuroscience - 'Flipping Your Lid'

When a child or an adult is emotionally overwhelmed or aroused we describe this as 'flipping our lid'. When this happens, the emotional part of our brain takes over and we might say or do something we later regret.


The opposite of this is a calm and rational state where we can think pretty clearly because all of our brain is making the connections it needs. You can think of this as being 'closed' or 'closing the lid'.


The science bit – In humans, the upstairs brain is responsible for our thinking and reasoning. It is called the pre-frontal cortex. The downstairs brain, called the limbic system and amygdala, is the oldest part of our brain and is responsible for emotional reactions. This is the bit of the brain that keeps us safe and enables us to fight, flight, freeze if we are in danger. When we “flip our lid” the emotional part of our brain takes over and we need the pre-frontal cortex to connect with the lambic system so that we can become rational again and calm down. Our brain and vital organs are all connected via the vagus nerve. This nerve sends messages and controls our physiological ability to calm ourselves down.


Emotion Coaching helps adults and children to “close their lids” and return to a calmer state. We also call this “emotional regulation” or being able to manage our emotions in healthy ways.





5 Steps of Emotion Coaching

Psychotherapist and mental health research scientist, Dr John Gottman, developed the Five Steps of Emotion Coaching as a result of long term studies on relationships and when adopted can help build emotional intelligence and create positive, long lasting effects for children and adults.


Tune in

Notice or become aware of your own and the child's emotions - Are you in a calm enough state to practice emotion coaching? Or is your lid open too? This means putting the parent agenda to one side and giving compassionate attention to your child. Or do you need to do something else right now? (ie, space for one or both of you to calm down, distract/do something else or hand parenting over to someone else that you trust)


Use this as an opportunity for you to practice and your child to learn. Say what emotions you think your child is experiencing. This will help your child's brain to make connections (up and downstairs). Keep it factual without judgement or criticism of the behaviour. 

Accept and listen

Try to step into your child's shoes with empathy. Think about a situation when you might have felt the same emotion and try to remember what that feels like.


Go back over what the child or young person has said only referring to what you see, hear and understand of the situation. Pause.....this may be enough at this stage depending on many factors, the age of your child, what happened, if they have been able to calm themselves down or if you are calm and level headed

End with problem solving/choices/setting limits

Where possible involve your child in problem solving, especially as they get older. This final stage might take place now or later on, depending on your child's and your own emotional state


Source; Emotion Coaching Programme, John Gottman Institute