Are You an Emotion Coach?

November 6, 2019

This is the second of two posts about Gottman’s 4 Types of Parenting. Click here to read the first post.

Last week, we wrote about what Gottman refers to as Dismissing and Disapproving parents — these are parents who trivialise or punish their children’s feelings. In Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, Gottman also describes two other types of parents: the Laissez-Faire parent, as well as the ideal Emotion Coach.

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Laissez-Faire parents take the saying “all feelings are valid” to an unhealthy extreme — they rightfully accept feelings, but are overly permissive of all behaviours. While they do not like negative emotions any more than Dismissing or Disapproving parents do, they handle their children’s feelings and behaviour by just letting them be, believing that the best way to handle feelings is just to “let them out”.

Laissez-Faire parents might…

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We saved the best for last: the Emotion Coach. These are parents who understand that negative emotions are opportunities for further intimacy with their kids. They go one step beyond accepting that all feelings are valid in order to “serve as their children’s guides through the world of emotion”.

What do Emotion Coach parents do? Gottman lists 5 steps:

  1. Become aware of the child’s emotion
  2. Recognise the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
  3. Listen empathetically, validating the child’s feelings
  4. Help the child find words to label the emotion they are having
  5. Set limits while exploring strategies to solve the problem at hand

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We’ll be dissecting these 5 steps over several blog posts, starting with the first two today!

Step 1: Become aware of the child’s emotion

This step may seem easy or obvious at first, but consider these different expressions of the same root feelings…

1: Your son says, “Mummy, I feel disappointed in myself and ashamed of my poor results.”

2: Your son comes home and says school was “fine”, rolls his eyes when you ask innocently about his test, snaps defensively when you ask him about his results, tries to argue that this test means nothing, although in the process, he raises his voice, snatches the test paper out of your hands, and tells you to “drop this subject”.

Being aware of others’ emotions would be a breeze if everyone communicated their feelings as clearly as they did in Statement 1, but what if your child’s way of expressing the feelings in Statement 1 was the behaviours listed in Statement 2? Are you aware of their emotions then?

Step 2: Recognise the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching

Realising that there are emotions lying beneath the surface of your child’s words and actions is like finding a hidden door that leads you into their inner world. Although the way that your child expresses an emotion might not be “ideal” yet, the universality of human emotions creates the opportunity for empathy so long as feelings exist. This empathy that you extend to your children will bring you closer together, becoming a strong basis for your relationship and their growth.

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Take a moment to consider things that your child has said or done in the last couple of days. Have there been times that they have – through their body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice – hinted at their feelings without explicitly naming them? During those times, did you aim to uncover their emotions?

In 2 weeks, we will dive into the remaining 3 steps of being an Emotion Coach. Until then, we invite you to actively stay on the lookout for your child’s feelings — the first step to an emotional connection.

If you are interested to learn more about how to navigate conversations about big feelings with your children, sign up for our upcoming Zoom Workshop:

“Managing Difficult Conversations” on 5 November 2020 7PM SGT at:

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