Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Secret to Effective Discipline: Emotion coaching

The dreaded proclamations erupt in the kitchen. Yet on this day, when your friend hears them, she calmly walks over to her four-year-old twins, bends down, places one hand on the iPad and the other on one’s shoulder as she replies.  “Jacob, you had the iPad and then you decided to play with your Legos.  Sawyer thought you were finished.  Shall we tell him you would like a turn and ask him when he will be finished?”

You almost burst into laughter.  No way is this going to work!  But your jaw drops in astonishment, when you realize that instead of stomping in protest, Jacob is actually nodding in agreement.  Now your friend turns to Sawyer and lets him know that Jacob would like a turn and asks how long before he will be finished.  Sawyer offers fifteen minutes. 

Silently you chuckle to yourself.  You’d be willing to bet your last dollar that Jacob is going to lose it over this one.  Come on, what kid is willing to wait 15 minutes while his brother plays with the toy he just had!  But once again you are incredulous, when your friend turns to Jacob, informs him that Sawyer needs 15 more minutes and asks him whether he’d like to watch while he waits or do something else.  Jacob decides to continue with the Legos and goes off to play.  Left speechless, you can’t even believe it when your friend once more turns to Sawyer and reminds him, “Your brother is waiting.  When you are finished please let him know. “ 

You’d planned on leaving soon, but this you’ve got see.  From your point of view it is not even fathomable that Sawyer will hand over the iPad without a knock down fight.  But not even 5 minutes later Sawyer closes out the iPad  and hands it peacefully to his brother.  No shoving, yelling or demands – he simply hands it to him and goes off to play.  

If you had not seen it with your own eyes you would NEVER believe it could happen –but it did!  How did your friend do it?  She has learned how to be an emotion coach – she stays connected, is empathetic, supportive and at the same time sets clear limits. 

Emotion coaching is a respectful way to respond to children. 

  • It is based on the belief that children’s behavior is fueled by feelings and needs.  It is our job as the adults in their lives to teach them how to express those feelings and needs respectfully and appropriately.   But it doesn’t stop there; it also teaches children to respect the emotions of others and to work cooperatively through creative problem solving.  
  • Research supports that the skills your children learn through emotion coaching are more important to their over-all success than IQ.  

  • After working with children and families for over three decades Lynn and I have found emotion coaching to be the most effective discipline strategy. 

Join us!

  • During the following weeks we will be writing about the steps of emotion coaching. 
  • Today we’ll provide you with an overview and in the weeks to come we’ll break it down into steps with examples and hopefully even a few videos thrown in to demonstrate what it sounds and looks like. 
  • Tell your friends and join us for the entire series!
  • Together we’ll become an emotion coaching team.  

Steps to Effective Emotion Coaching Include: the 5 C’s and a Re-do

Cues:  Recognize immediately when intensity is going up.

Why?   The earlier you notice that things are starting to escalate, the easier it is to keep everyone calm and out of the “red zone.”

Connect:  Draw your child to you

Why?  Your initial response either de-escalates the situation or escalates it.  Your child needs to know that when you approach you are coming to help, not as a threat.  

Cause:  It’s easy to get caught in the “flames” of the misbehavior in front of you, but it’s essential to go below the surface and discover the feelings and needs – the real “fuel sources” behind the behavior.  

Why?  You have to understand the “real fuel source” before you can select an effective strategy. 

Clarify the problem: What’s the real issue here? 

Why?   Clearly stating the problem from both your child’s point of view and yours allows you to clarify what’s important to both of you so that you know you understand one another and as a result can be more effective problem solvers. 

Collaborate:   Together come up with a win/win solution

Why?  Healthy relationships are reciprocal – that means we work together as a problem solving team.  Teaching your child how to do this now, in the early years, keeps him working with you during the teen years.  Your final solution has to be a win/win for everyone involved. 

Re-do:  Sometimes, despite our best efforts there is still a meltdown and we need to go back later

Why?   When everyone is calm your child is open to learning more respectful and appropriate actions and words to use next time she experiences those feelings and needs.   It’s through practice that we learn the skills to prevent the challenging behaviors from occurring in the first place. 

When you choose to be an emotion coach:

·        You build a relationship with your child that keeps you working together for a lifetime.

·        And, you bring calm to your family in this very fast-paced world. 

Please join us in this effort by submitting your questions via the comment box.


  1. My husband and I need help on getting through to our three year old. No matter how we approach him, he seems lost whenever we try to speak to him. Very rarely do I see full concentration in his eyes or actions. I feel, because of this, nothing we say, including discipline, is effective.

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  3. M 3 1/2 year old is the more spirited but I also have an almost 2 year old (end of may) that wants to emulate every action and response. I am struggling with how to intervene in a way that honors both kids. When my 3 year old starts to get in the danger zone her sister mirrors her emotion and I don't know what to do first...any suggestions for escalating in those moments I miss the early cues