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When the Emotion Coaching tables turn...

Please be advised that this article contains reference to suicide.

Much of our focus is on encouraging Emotion Coaching as a style of responding to children and young people, but a recent experience by this practitioner was a good reminder of the longer term effect of Emotion Coaching.

In the ridiculously busy run up to the end of the year I received tragic news that a long-time friend, who lived some distance away, had taken her life.

With a long delay before my friend's funeral, I remained caught up in the busyness of the time, trying to keep everything 'level' with my teenaged stepchildren as we coped with end of year concerts, graduations, work deadlines, and Christmas preparations.

Grief, of course, had other ideas.

My 14 year-old step-daughter was talking to me about something mundane when I suddenly started crying. She immediately took a deep breath and focussed on me.

See if you can identify the Emotion Coaching Steps in what happened next:

"I can see that you're really sad right now," she said. "I wonder if you might be thinking about your friend?"

She embraced me and stroked my back until I calmed down.

Then she said, "You were friends for a very long time, weren't you? I know I'd feel really upset if I lost one of my friends. I never met her, but you do have excellent friends - I bet she was great!"

I mentioned that I was also overwhelmed with good memories - memories of how much fun we had together.

My step-daughter acknowledged this, saying: "You've lost her, but you'll never lose those memories."

My step-daughter stayed close until I felt able to go about my day again.

Emotion Coaching has always been a natural style of communication in my blended family, and I even used my partner as a 'guinea pig' when I was practising training, but my step-daughter's reaction was such a clear reminder of its value.

She and her younger brother have been 'emotion coached' for several years. Both step-children have witnessed the way their dad and I communicate, but this was the first time I had been on the receiving end from her.

Without sounding forced or as if she was following a particularly process, my step-daughter responded with the four steps of Emotion Coaching:

  • STEP 1: She noticed my distress and empathised. In fact, she was a 'S.T.A.R' for me. She Stopped, took a moment to Think about my behaviour, then Attuned herself to me, and Reflected on an equivalent feeling/situation in her life.

  • STEP 2: She labelled and validated my feelings. Her physical response was soothing and helped me to regulate my nervous system.

  • STEP 3 and STEP 4: Although I didn't need to have expectations set about my behaviour, by recognising the importance of fond memories and the quality of my friendships with others, my step-daughter gave me an 'anchor' as my distress subsided.

I often imagine Emotion Coaching being like ripples spreading out, making the world a kinder place, but this time I experienced it very close to home.

It was a wonderful reminder that the children and young people being 'emotion coached' today will become the empathetic adults of tomorrow.

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