Emotion Coaching: Step 4 – Supportive Problem Solving

Click on the links to read the previous posts in this series:

So often we impose a solution to a situation due to the time pressures we’re under and the view of adults as the experts, and then we wonder why children can solve problems in similar situations. Dependence breeds hostility; by supporting children to create their own solutions, we develop their skills for the future. The final step of emotion coaching gives children a safe space in which they can learn from their mistakes.

Our natural instinct is to help others, we wouldn’t be teachers if it weren’t, but in this final step you’ve got to give them a little space to learn from their experience and this includes possibly choosing the wrong course of action – where it’s safe for them to do so.

To support the child to solve the problem we need to set some limits. Help the child to understand that although their feelings and wishes are acceptable, the behaviour of their reaction may not have been. It’s really important that the child understands that only their behaviour is unacceptable, not them as people.

We can then help the child to identify what they want to happen, working with them to clarify and understand their ideas for solving the issue under discussion. Give the child a chance to make suggestions before you share possible solutions. Some children can only deal with a few ideas at a time, others may be able to engage in brainstorming and have the ability to understand the theoretical implications of similar experiences they, or you, have encountered in previous problem solving attempts.

Collaboratively evaluate the possible solutions. Base your discussions within the ethos and expectations of your setting. Remember that the child’s beliefs, values and experiences may not match you own.

Help them to choose a solution and offer advice/ anecdotes from your own experience in dealing with similar problems. Talk about what worked, what didn’t work and why.

You then have to relinquish all control and allow the child to choose their course of action, as long as it is safe to do so. This can be really difficult, especially if you can spot holes in their plan, but it’s their plan and they will learn a valuable experience whatever their choice.

For more ways to teach emotional literacy, read my post ‘Emotion of the Week’.

Let me know how you get on!


Emotion Coaching: Step 3 – Validate and Name the Emotion

Read the first two posts in this series step 1 – recognising the opportunity and step 2 – listen.

It’s now time to think about validating and naming the emotions the child may be experiencing. We may find it easy to attach a name to an emotion because we’ve had years of experience of developing our emotional literacy. Children haven’t had the benefit of this experience and may have an less developed understanding.

At this point you need to be careful. Think about your reaction, when in the middle of a heated discussion, someone describes you as angry, when what you were actually feeling was frustrated. The negative connotations associated with the word angry can make it appear ‘loaded’ with perhaps more power than it deserves. In a situation like this, the use of angry can actually escalate the situation.

As always, careful use of language can help so much. Instead of ‘I think you are feeling …’ it might be better to say, ‘If I were in that situation, I think I would be feeling…’ or ‘I wonder if that has made you feel…?’ It might also help to describe how your body would respond to this feeling, to help the child to understand that their physical reactions are quite normal.

Providing words to describe the emotion and the physical responses can help children to transform an unclear, perhaps scary and uncomfortable feeling, into something definable. Something that has a name, has boundaries, is experienced by others and is a normal part of life.

Come back next week for part 4: supportive problem solving.