5 Steps of Emotional Regulation: John Gottman for Dummies

John Gottman wrote a book called, “Raising an emotionally intelligent child: The heart of parenting”

In it he discusses 5 ways to be an emotional “coach”. Here are the 5 ways, simplified (hopefully).

1. Look at yourself and how you deal with emotions

Before you can try and help a child understand their emotions, you need to understand your own. Are you someone who likes to fix problems? Do you have an anger issue? Do you avoid conflict etc…?

Gottman suggests several questions you can ask yourself to discover why you feel the way you do about emotions.  (http://www.foreverfamilies.net/xml/articles/emotion_coaching.aspx?&publication=short)

  • Did your parents treat sad and angry moments as natural occurrences?
  • Did your parents lend an ear when family members felt unhappy, fearful, or angry?
  • Did your family use times of unhappiness, fear, or anger to show each other support, offer guidance, and help each other solve problems?
  • Was anger always viewed as potentially destructive? If so, what did this teach you about how to handle your anger? Are you taking this same approach with your children?
  • Was fear looked on as cowardly? If so, how did you learn to handle fear?
  • Was sadness seen as self-pity in your family? What ways were you taught to handle sadness?
  • Were sadness, anger and fear shoved under the blanket or dismissed as unproductive, frivolous, dangerous, or self-indulgent?

Research has shown that parents who have become good at emotion-coaching believe the following about emotions:

  • Their child’s feelings are important.
  • Their child’s feelings and wishes are okay, even if their actions aren’t.
  • Experiencing negative emotions, such as sadness, anger or fear, is important.
  • Negative feelings are a chance for parents and children to grow closer.
  • Understanding what causes their child’s feelings is important.
  • Negative feelings are an opportunity for problem-solving

2. See all emotions as a teaching/learning opportunities.

Children do not use logic when it comes to emotions. Let your child talk about how they feel, put a label to their emotion and make sure they feel understood. If you try and belittle their feelings or tell them they should not feel the way they do, your child will end up feeling frustrated and not as close to you and will be less likely to come to you in the future.

3. Listen, empathize and validate

Put yourself in your child’s shoes. There problem may seem petty to you but it’s the world to them.

Gottman says empathetic listeners do the following: (http://www.foreverfamilies.net/xml/articles/emotion_coaching.aspx?&publication=short)

  • Use their eyes to identify physical evidence of their child’s emotions, such as a suddenly

reduced appetite.

  • Use their ears to hear the underlying messages behind what a child is saying.
  • Use their imaginations to put themselves in their child’s shoes to understand how

they’re feeling.

  • Use words to reflect back what they hear, see, and imagine in a soothing,

nonjudgmental way. These words also help the child label the emotion.

  • Use their hearts to feel what their child is feeling.

4. Label emotions

Put a name to the emotion your child is feeling such as “angry” or “happy” or “sad”. Labeling your child’s emotions can bring them comfort because they often do not understand what they are feeling. Be clear about what your child might be feeling

Making sure not to tell them how they should be feeling.

5. Explore possible solutions while setting limits.

John Gottman describes several parts to this step (http://www.foreverfamilies.net/xml/articles/emotion_coaching.aspx?&publication=short)

  • Set limits. Even though it’s important to validate your child’s feelings, you don’t have to validate their actions. Once you set a limit on inappropriate behavior and its consequences, follow through and be consistent. The ideal time to use emotion coaching is right after your child misbehaves and before you deal out the consequence. For example, a parent might say, “You’re mad that Danny took that game away from you. I would be, too. But it’s not okay for you to hit him. What can you do instead?”
  • Identify goals. After you’ve followed through on consequences for inappropriate behavior, identify the goal your child was trying to reach with his or her behavior. Simply ask your child what he was trying to accomplish.
  • Think of possible solutions. Allow your child to think up solutions to a problem situation before you offer suggestions. This helps your child develop problem-solving skills. Don’t shoot down his solutions if they’re not workable. Instead, ask questions that will help him see the outcome of his solutions.
  • Evaluate the proposed solutions based on your family values. When your child suggests solutions, ask questions like:
  • “Is this solution fair?”
  • “Will this solution work?
  • “Is it safe?”
  • “How are you likely to feel? How are other people likely to feel?
  • Help your child choose a solution. If your child comes up with an unworkable solution, it’s okay to go forward as long as it’s harmless. Let her learn from seeing the consequences of her choices. Just leave the door open to rework the solution if it doesn’t seem to be working. Also help your child come up with a plan of action to accomplish the solution.

Following these steps can give you some help during what can be a frustrating time in a child’s development.

-Melissa Broderick



~ by Melissa Broderick on October 15, 2009.

2 Responses to “5 Steps of Emotional Regulation: John Gottman for Dummies”

  1. I like his list and knowledge he imparts about the importance of first working on you before someone else. While studing in class about emotional regulation and emotional coaching we’ve learned a great deal about this. I posted on temper tantrums, and emotional coaching is so important. It is pointless if you yourself can’t emotionally regulate yourself in a healthy way.

    -Jeff Scott

  2. This is not to do with child development, however:
    I’m one of a few facilitating a Duluth style DV Perpetrator Programme in the UK.
    Although we have had a reasonable amount of success, it appears that this is more to do with the relationships we have with the men than the programme itself.

    This makes much more sense and meets the point of frustration that we, and the men on the course, often find ourselves. This goes one step beyond the self talk scenario. Emotional enquiry would be much better than trying to recall a positive self talk script amidst an emotional crisis bordering on frustration and possible loss of self control leading to a violent outburst.

    Wish I had the power to include this as part of our course.

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