PEP Blog


Emotion Coaching: Putting Words to Feelings

By Trish Pannuto & Colleen Reed

Parenting provides endless opportunities to navigate feelings — those of our children and our own. Whether we’re dealing with a child, co-worker or partner, we often approach big feelings in one of two ways, either:

  1. Shutting them down
  2. Giving into and accommodating them

Though well-intentioned, neither of these natural inclinations are helpful, and both will likely amplify big feelings. So, what’s one to do?

  • Adjust expectations; accept feelings are part of our humanity.
  • Slow down, take a deep breath, and refuse to allow big emotions to overwhelm us; doing so gives us the capacity to turn toward others with a sense of calm.
  • Listen with an empathetic ear, acknowledging that all feelings are okay.
  • Validate feelings by naming them thereby growing everyone’s emotional vocabulary. As Noted Parenting Author Dr. Tina Payne Bryson would say, “name it to tame it.”

One way parents can do this is to guess at what the child might be feeling. For a preschooler feeling anxious about morning drop off, the parent might say, “I wonder if you feel sad when I leave you at preschool?”

For an older child who returns from school chattering excitedly about a test a parent might ask: “You look ecstatic, is it possible that you did better on that test than you expected?”

And, for a dispirited teen, dropped from a group chat and excluded from a party: “I wonder if you’re feeling hurt, embarrassed, devastated” — it’s up to you to insert the appropriate word to reflect what the teen is projecting.

Understanding feelings and emotions is an essential part of child development. By giving names to feelings, we’re helping kids better understand them. Because it’s easy to fall into the habit of using common words like mad, sad, or glad, we’ve created this handy download, Putting Words to Feelings, that will help you expand their vocabulary!

Parenting isn’t easy and all of us could use some help sometimes.

Here are three ways you can tap into PEP today:

  1. Check out our live webinar on October 27, Emotion Coaching. In this one-hour workshop, parents will gain an understanding of their own parenting style — dismissive, disapproving, laissez-faire or emotion coach — and then learn skills to help their child self-regulate through problem-solving.
  2. Join one of our two online master classes, each 4 weeks long and offered monthly: Encouragement! Building Your Child’s Confidence from the Inside Out, and Redefining Discipline: A No Gimmicks Guide to Raising Responsible, Respectful Kids.
  3. Read more about Children and Anxiety from PEP Education Director, Lynne Ticknor: Anxiety in Children: Helping Your Child Find Peace of Mind.

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Parent Encouragement Program
10100 Connecticut Ave.
Kensington, MD 20895

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