Emotion basics are at the foundation of emotion coaching. Each of the basic emotions are important because they give us information on how to react to different situations. This information will help guide parents to recognize emotions in their children AND know what the child needs in order to move through their emotional experiences.
Every emotion has:
Label Bodily Felt Sense Need Action Tendency
Fear Heart racing Safety & Protection run, hide, etc.
Sadness Heaviness Comfort Get a hug
Anger Heart racing Validation Defend the boundary
Feeling hot/flushed A boundary
Tension in the body
Parents can use this information to help their child. For example:
Knowing what each of the emotions “looks like” will help parents identify which emotion their child is experiencing more
Knowing the label for each emotion will help parents teach their child how to put into words what they are experiencing. The label will eventually help their child to recognize the experience within their own body. When an emotion is labeled, it helps to regulate the experience.
Parents/caregivers have a tremendous opportunity to influence their loved one’s emotional development, regardless of age. Specifically, parents can “coach” their loved one to become aware of their emotions and associated needs, as well as to regulate their upset feelings more easily. A wealth of research has shown that children of parents who take on the role of “emotion coach” function much better in a number of areas, including academic performance, social skills and physical & mental health. These children also experience fewer “negative” emotions overall, and develop the ability to become more independent. Emotion coaching is especially important if your child is a “super-feeler”.
Within EFFT, there are two models of emotion coaching – a comprehensive model and a brief model. The comprehensive model outlines the micro-skills of emotion coaching that will serve as a framework for the use of the brief model in day-to-day interactions. Both models are presented below, beginning with the comprehensive model.
Step 1: Attend to the Emotion
Attend to your loved one’s emotional experience by approaching the situation calmly and acknowledging the presence of emotion (essentially not ignoring the child’s expression of emotion, whether subtle or obvious).
“I see that something is up.”
Step 2: Name it
Put into words the emotions (or range of emotions) that you think your loved one might possibly be experiencing. You may also help them to identify and describe the bodily felt sense that accompanies each named emotion.
“You look sad.”
Step 3: Validate the Emotion
This is the most important and yet the most challenging of all of the steps of emotion coaching. It communicates: “I understand you and your unique experience.”
Validating involves putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes and conveying understanding of their experience as they are experiencing it. This involves imagining what the situation must be like for them. It is important to accept, allow, and validate emotions that are different from what you expected or that are hard for you to understand.
When validating, it is also very important to resist going for the bright side, explaining with logic or trying to help them to see the situation as you see it. If you can do this, you will be showing your loved one that you understand them (and their unique experience) and this will 1) improve your relationship, 2) encourage them to keep coming to you when things get tough and 3) help them to move forward from the emotional challenge.
When validating it is also very important to “speak the unspoken”. Speaking the unspoken involves speaking that truth that you both know, but that neither of you want to say out loud.
“I can understand why you might feel sad. It really hurts to be excluded, especially when all of your friends are going to the party”.
Step 4: Meet the Need
When meeting the emotion need, it is important to refer back to the basics of emotions. Each emotion has a corresponding need from the environment.
“Come here. Let me give you a hug.”
Step 5: Fix/Solve the Problem
Attending to, naming and validating an emotion/emotional experience goes a long way in reducing the power of the pain. As such, this step often is unnecessary since engaging in the prior steps decrease the strength of the emotion and help the child to engage in their own problem-solving.
When this step is required, problem solving communicates “I will help you sort to this out” and it can be very helpful, but only if it comes after attending, labeling and validating the emotional experience of the child.
“Why don’t we sort out how you are going to deal with this situation when you see your friends next. And then why not catch a movie? It won’t be the same – but I think we can still have a nice time.”
Additional note: This step is critical if the child is the victim of bullying. The child will need your support to develop strategies to stand up to bullies and to access supports at school or in the community, if appropriate. Walking away from a bully is not an effective strategy despite prior teachings encouraging children to do so.
The brief model of emotion coaching involves a focus on Step 1) validation, and 2) Support (emotion and practical). Some caregivers have shared that they appreciate the brief version, especially in the early days when they are trying to become more comfortable with this new style of communication.
Step 1. Learning to Validate
The first skill of emotion coaching is to validate your loved one. You can do so by transforming “BUT to BECAUSE”. For example, when your loved one tells you they feel sad about missing out on a family event, rather than leading with a typical response like:
“I can understand why you might feel sad but there’s always next time”
You would first imagine why it would make sense for her to feel sad and then convey your understanding using the word “because” like:
“I can understand why you might feel sad because you know you’re going to miss out on the fun”
Validating your loved one’s emotional experience – even if you don’t personally agree – will have a calming effect for your loved one. In fact, validation is most effective when it involves at least three “becauses”. For example… “I can understand why you might feel sad because you know you’re going to miss out on the fun; and because you were really looking forward to this; and because you don’t know when you’ll have another opportunity”. You don’t need to use the word “because” each time, but it can help you to structure your validation until doing so becomes more natural.
If you want to increase the effectiveness of the skill of validation, when you communicate your statement using three “becauses”, match your loved one’s tone and volume. For example, if they are feeling blue, say it low and slow. If they are feeling angry, say it with energy (but not anger). Doing so will quite literally calm the emotional circuits in their brain.
Step 2a: Support – Meet the Emotional Need
Once the other feels validated, you can then offer emotional support. Every emotion has a specific emotional need. If your loved one is sad, offer them comfort (e.g., a hug). If they feel angry, help them to communicate what it is they need (e.g., space, a boundary, to feel heard). If they feel shame or anxiety, you can now offer reassurance and practical support. That being said, our society is deeply conditioned to offer reassurance when someone shares with us that they are struggling in some way. Providing reassurance WITHOUT validation is ineffective, despite how often we feel pulled to do so. That said, when preceded by deep validation, reassurance is much more likely to have the desired effect.
Step 2b: Support – Meet the Practical Need
Finally it’s time for problem-solving! When faced with an emotional challenge, most of us want to move right to “fixing it”. However, if you skip over the steps above, you are likely going to experience resistance to your efforts to solve the emotional problem. Your loved one may also get frustrated, perhaps feeling like you aren’t listening. And so the order in which you move through these steps is very important. Only after you’ve validated and offered emotional support do you then support your loved one practically.
When using the steps of emotion coaching, the skill of validation is critical. It calms the brain and makes the other more open and flexible to comfort, reassurance, problem-solving – even redirection and limits. There will be times when you will notice that once you’ve deeply validated your loved one, meeting the emotional and practical need isn’t even necessary because they will feel calmer or will have figured out themselves what to do next. Be aware, however, that once you start to validate your loved one, they may initially react in the following ways:
“Why are you talking to me like that? That’s weird.”
“You can’t possibly understand.”
“I’m not sad – I’m mad!”
Do not be discouraged by these types of responses. They are normal and to be expected when you initiate a new style of communication, especially if there is a history of strain in the relationship. In these instances, simply start over with validating anew. We call it “validation whack-a-mole” and it’s actually a great sign that your loved one is feeling heard and is willing to share with you more than what was initially on the surface. Keep using the validation script and be sure to communicate three “becauses” each time and the emotional storm will soon pass.
Shortcuts to Validation
Here are some helpful phrases to get you started. Communicating with your loved one may feel unnatural at first, but it is like exercising a new muscle and it will get easier with time.
I get why you would feel _________ because X 3
I can see how that might make you feel _________ because X 3
It makes sense that you’re feeling _________ because X 3
I can only imagine how difficult this must be because… because X 3
No wonder you’re _________ because X 3
I can understand why you might feel _________ because X 3
“This is so ______________” because X 3
Click here for a hand-out outlining the steps above.
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