-National Scientific Council on the Developing Child
Being a coach, whether it's a baseball coach or a soccer coach or an emotion coach, is a really big job. As a coach, you are expected to teach new skills to learners who may or may not have any of the required prerequisite skills. Coaching is a challenging job for sure. It is even more challenging when you think about helping young children develop the skills of emotional regulation. We assume that children will "just figure out" emotional regulation. We assume that children can "just behave"... they know better. Do they? Are you sure? If they do, who taught them how to behave? Was it you? Someone has to teach these skills...so if it's not you, then who? Many of our children can't or won't "just figure it out".
Before we can think about coaching, we have to have the skills that are needed to teach. I mean, it's impossible to teach a skill that you don't have. You can't teach anyone to play soccer if you don't know something... okay, a lot... about soccer. I can't teach anyone to fly a plane because I have no idea how to do that!! This means if you don't know the steps for teaching and developing emotional regulation, it will be challenging for you to teach it to anyone else. And,if you are not good at self-regulation, you may want to let someone else teach this skill to your child. Just saying...
Helping children develop the skills of emotional regulation is very important. Did you know that most young children only know about 3 emotion words? Yep, they know mad, sad and happy. We have to help them to build that emotional vocabulary. We have to help them understand the difference between mad and frustrated. We have to help them begin to develop strategies for responding to and managing their emotions.
Healthy social-emotional development in young children correlates with healthy cognitive development, and, therefore creates a strong foundation for future school achievement. If we want our children to do well in school, we have to do more than just teach academic skills. We have to be sure that they are emotionally ready for school as well. With the current focus on child outcomes and accountability in K-12 education, all aspects of school readiness, including social-emotional health and development should be an area of focus in early childhood. Children with good emotional regulation skills are better able to control impulsive behaviors during emotional distress. Strong social-emotional development is a predictor of later academic, social, and emotional success.
So... Coach... what can you do to help your child develop strong emotional competency? Here are a few suggestions:
- With younger children, talk about feelings. Your feelings, their feelings and the feelings of others. Build an emotional vocabulary!
- Connect the dots for your child: Share your observations about their behavior. Try this: “Whenever ______ happens, you ________”. Raise the level of self awareness. Avoid being critical... just observe and report.
- Talk about the physical signs: The nervous system shifts when a trigger is present. Physical changes can be a rapid heartbeat, warm flushed cheeks, rapid breathing, crying, etc. Ask the child what they feel in their body when the trigger occurs. Help the child "feel" the emotion. The physical manifestation of the emotion is a very important piece in helping them to manage the behavioral response.
- Give the child replacement behaviors for the behavioral response. What can they do with the emotion. When a child is angry, one of the things that they can do is to hit their friend. This, however, is not an appropriate response. Does the child know what to do instead? Have you given them options that are more appropriate? This will take time and practice and eventually the child will learn that there are more appropriate alternatives to hitting when they are angry. You have to show up to coach them through the learning!!
- Be careful what you are allowing children to practice. You only strengthen a behavior through practice. If we want children to be better problem solvers and better at emotional regulation, we have to give them opportunities to practice the more appropriate behaviors.
- Anticipate the behavior and stop it before it starts. This will minimize the opportunity to practice the behaviors we don't want.
- Get a plan! (or two or three) Plan ahead... and get in there and to the work.
Come on coach... let's get ready for the big game... the game of life :)
If a child doesn't know how to swim, we teach.
If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.
If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.
If a child doesn’t know how to behave,
we….. …..teach? …..punish?
Why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as we do the others?”
Tom Herner (NASDE President) Counterpoint 1998, p. 2