For many young people in today’s modern world, the list of demands they find themselves dealing with is endless.
From studies at school to managing expectations of their teachers, parents, and friends, to social skills and succeeding with their hobbies, their health, personal development and simply making sense of the world around them.
Every parent wants to see their child succeed, and no one wants to see them struggle. With so much advice and guidance available to support them through the difficult transitions of childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood, some of the concepts from coaching can also bring a lot of value when supporting young people.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at exactly what we mean by coaching young children, some tips for effective coaching, and how these can be used with children to help them succeed with whatever life throws at them.
This article contains:
What is Coaching?
There are a few different definitions of coaching, and this can depend on the type of coaching you seek and the reason for seeking it. Some popular definitions include:
It is helping them learn rather than teaching them.
Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.
People who undertake the role of coaching often refer to themselves as a Life Coach, usually with a specific area of life or professional development that they specialize in. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a life coach as:
‘someone who helps clients decide what they want in their life and how to achieve it.’
Simply put, coaching is the relationship between two individuals, one as the coach and one as the ‘client’. People may engage with a life coach or seek out coaching for many different aspects of life including:
- Professional career development
- Personal training or health goals
- Personal development or relationship goals
- Small business or entrepreneurial development
- Support overcoming addiction or destructive habits
Coaching is a great avenue to pursue if you have a clear idea or objective in mind for something you would like to achieve or overcome in your life, but aren’t sure exactly how to get there. If there are behaviors you want to change or improve but lack the structure and motivation to do it, coaching is a great resource.
Is Coaching the Same as Therapy?
Coaching is very different from counseling and clinical therapy. Therapy will usually support a person with different mental or emotional health conditions, in order to help them manage their experiences. Therapy also helps individuals to work through past trauma from a specific incident or experience in their lives, such as the loss of a loved one.
Other key differences include:
- To practice as a therapist or counselor requires professional degrees and qualifications, as well as registration with professional bodies, and relevant professional licenses. It is a much more highly-skilled profession, compared with coaching (not to say that coaching isn’t equally valuable to the right individual).
- Therapy and/or counseling usually reflect on past experiences and how they influence the present. Coaching is more focused on supporting the present in order to create a more positive future (Robbins, 2019).
- Coaching has a focus on more direct, attainable goals, and the tangible steps required to achieve them. Therapy and counseling are less outcomes focused, with an emphasis on ‘inner’ subconscious and conscious personal development (Stephens, 2018).
- Therapy and counseling can take place over many years, for as long as the individual feels they require it or for as long as the relationship is helping them. Coaching tends to be shorter term due to the outcomes focus of the relationship (Stephens, 2018).
These are more general differences between the two, and may not always hold true. In truth, there are lots of crossovers and similarities. Deciding which avenue is right for you or your children will depend on what you’re hoping to achieve or get support with long term.
A Look at Coaching for Children
When it comes to coaching for children, the best person for the job is almost always the parents (Baras, 2019).
A large part of parenting is supporting children to reach their potential, uncover what their passions and goals might be, and help them work towards different avenues of success in ways that are meaningful.
When we think about parenting, it’s rare that we consider the concepts of goal-setting for our children, the way we do for ourselves, but why not? This isn’t about putting pressure on children to make hard decisions about their future but encouraging them to be curious about what life might look like for them.
Effective coaching can also help young children begin to develop some of the personal skills that will aid them as they get older including:
- Overcoming failure
- Confidence in going after what they want
- Creative problem-solving
- An open and curious approach to new challenges and ideas
- Collaboration and sharing
Learning the skills, techniques, tools, and concepts of effective coaching can be a great tool for parents, teachers or anyone responsible for supporting young children.
It can help to provide a framework for working with young people in new ways, that can be tailored to best support individuals. When done well, the coaching framework for young children can help them to feel empowered and positive about what they want to do, and what they can achieve.
What is Emotion Coaching for Children?
Emotion Coaching is an area of relationship psychology focused specifically on coaching young people for emotional, social and well-being confidence.
Emotion coaching places an emphasis on helping children to understand and regulate their emotional reactions, rather than attempting to get them to change their behavior through reward and punishment systems (Gottman, Katz & Hoover, 1996).
Using reward and punishment systems can work with children in the short term, but research has shown that over time these models of coercing behavior become increasingly ineffective (Bloom, 2009).
Emotion coaching is far more beneficial as it helps children to understand the vastness of their emotions, why they might happen, and how to communicate and overcome them (Weare & Gray, 2003).
The Emotion Coaching technique is comprised of two elements:
- Empathy – This requires the parent to suspend any reaction to the behavior a child may display, and instead focus on the emotions they exhibit. In this part of the coaching, it is important to help the child recognize and label their emotional reactions, to help them build their understanding of their emotions.
- Guidance – The second part of the coaching model requires guidance in explaining why the emotions have arisen. Depending on the situation, limits can still be applied to the behavior (for example, making the child take a time-out as a consequence of poor behavior), but the focus should be on guiding the child through why they have behaved the way they have (in response to an emotion) and why the time-out is being applied as a consequence.
Gottman (1993) was a key psychologist in this area. His research focuses on family relationships and parent attitudes, and in turn how these influenced the behavior of their children. When he first began his research, the literature and resources available were very limited and seemed to put a lot of pressure on parents to raise emotionally robust children, without the support to do it.
Gottman conducted a number of studies further exploring parental stereotypes, and how these stereotypes influence emotional development in children, and that the key is in helping parents understand the emotions that exist behind their children’s ‘problem’ behaviors.
The four key parental stereotypes he identified were:
- The Dismissive Parent – this parental type is quick to ridicule or curb emotional responses, disengages with emotions from themselves or their children, and uses distraction techniques to handle problem behavior rather than understanding why it is happening.
- The Disapproving Parent – this parental type is similar to the dismissive parent, but far more negative, direct and critical of emotional reactions from their children. They often also display controlling or manipulative behaviors in order to discipline their children and have no interest in understanding their children’s emotions.
- The Laissez-Faire Parent – this parental type is more laid back, but equally does not offer any support or guidance for exploring and understanding emotional responses, or how these connect to their children’s behavior. They usually use time as a means to deal with problem behavior, simply ‘waiting it out’ rather than dealing with the issue proactively.
- The Good Parent – Gottman suggests this is the least common parental type and one he has also dubbed ‘The Emotion Coach’. This parent takes time to understand their children’s emotional needs and responses and offers guidance to them to understand themselves. They promote positive behavior through self-regulation techniques and better self-awareness.
If you want to find out what parental stereotype you are closest you, you can complete the What Parent Style Are You? quiz on The Gottman Institute website.
Five Key Steps of The Emotion Coach:
Gottman found that the so-called ‘Good Parent’ or ‘Emotion Coach’ consistently displayed the following behaviors, or steps, that allowed them to build a better understanding and bond with their children and their emotional responses:
- Be aware of children’s different emotions and how they exhibit them externally
- Identify that emotional expression is an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with your children
- Display empathy and validate children’s emotions, but help them to understand why they respond in the way they do
- Provide children with the right words and labels to use to communicate their emotions
- Know when to set limits or hit ‘reset’ when problem-solving or addressing problem behavior
Engaging with the child in this way helps them to build their cognitive understanding of their emotions, how they’re connected to their behavior, and encourages them to adopt positive self-regulation techniques (Rose, Mcguire-Snieckus & Gilbert, 2015).
5 Benefits of Coaching for Kids
When coaching is done right, the benefits for young children can be plentiful. Coaching can help young children develop the life skills and attributes that will enable to work through and overcome some of life’s tougher challenges and decisions.
Coaching is not about quick wins or fixes, but a focus on continual development over time.
Benefits of coaching young children also include:
1. Helps them to understand that achievements don’t always equal happiness
Getting the highest test score, winning that contest, or getting first place in the sports game is a great feeling and exciting experience! But what many adults who outwardly tick all the success boxes will agree on, is that happiness isn’t all about the winning.
Coaching can help children to understand that, yes, winning is great, but it isn’t the only measure of success or way to feel happy.
2. Learn that their emotions and experiences are two separate things
Children often go through a rollercoaster of emotions during any given day, based on whatever is happening, how tired they feel, if they’re hungry or even if their juice was served in the wrong color cup!
Coaching can help them (and you as a parent) explore why emotions arose, and separate them from their experiences. This can be particularly beneficial if, for example, they lose a competition or get a low grade.
Emotion coaching especially can help them understand that they feel sad because they didn’t do as well as they hoped – and that’s okay – but this one experience doesn’t define who they are.
3. Helps them build balance and curiosity
When children show a knack for something, it can be easy to get caught up and encourage their full focus to be on that one thing – whether it’s a sport or musical instrument or some other hobby.
Children take their cues from us and will often go along with this. Coaching helps to encourage balance – ensuring that while having an affinity to one particular thing is great, having multiple interests and curiosity to explore new areas will be more beneficial in the long run.
4. Better understanding that everyone is different, and that’s GOOD
By not pigeonholing children to be interested in just one thing, or only the things that we ourselves are most interested in, we allow them to develop a greater understanding for the wide remit of interests and passions that exist and learn that there are no ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ things to enjoy or ways to be happy.
5. Keeps a focus on authentic character building
Coaching can help children learn what really makes them feel happy. It’s about working hard, trying their best, and overcoming hurdles when they arise.
Coaching is a set of techniques and tools to help shape attributes and good habits, in fun positive ways. This, in turn, can help young children learn that life is ultimately about the journey, not the rewards.
How to Effectively Coach Kids
There are so many different techniques and methods available when it comes to coaching, it’s important to make sure you find the ones that feel natural to you, and work best with the individual children you’re coaching.
Think back to when you were at school. Were there any coaches or teachers that stood out for you? What was it about them that kept you engaged and enjoying their sessions? This is a great starting point to start building an idea of how to effectively coach.
Some other pointers include:
Remember the importance of play
Play is incredibly important during childhood. Children engage in play for a range of reasons, but one of the key reasons researchers agree on is to make sense of the wider world around them and their experiences.
As we get older, we engage in play less and less, which can make it difficult for coaches to consider this as an important aspect of their sessions!
Play encourages creativity, problem-solving, curiosity and open exploration, so for an effective coaching session, make sure you include some playful activities.
Pick up the best communication techniques
When we think about communication, we immediately think about what we say and how we say it, but effective communication is so much more than this.
Effective communication involves a lot of listening, asking questions, body language (especially with children), and knowledge sharing rather than telling.
Making sure you use age-appropriate vocabulary and terminology, but not baby-talk is equally important. Finding the right balance when it comes to communication and tailoring this for the children you’re coaching, will see you get great results.
Don’t forget to plan
Planning is absolutely crucial. Make sure you know what you want the outcome of each session to be. When selecting activities ask yourself ‘would I want to do this?’ – if the answer is no, pick something else!
Think about what could go wrong and how you will mediate this. How can you adapt the session for timing if an activity runs over? What if the activity takes a lot less time than you anticipated? How will you grow on what you deliver in this session in your next one, two or five sessions?
Be adaptable and fluid with how you deliver, but make sure you know what you’re doing and how you’d like to do it. Nothing loses engagement faster than a coach who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
3 Emotion Coaching Activities for Kids
1. Understanding Emotions – Mood Boards
This activity is great for younger children who are just beginning to express their emotions and may be finding it difficult to put words to exactly how they’re feeling.
You will need:
- Stack of old magazines, books, and newspaper
- Scissors and glue
- Old cardboard or cork-boards
How to run the activity:
- Start by having a general conversation with your children. Ask them about their recent emotions and get them to begin to identify the different ways they feel. You can lead them by reminding them of different situations where they responded in different ways.
- Explain that you’re going to create an Emotion board for each emotion they sometimes feel, so they can use these when they feel they can’t communicate their feelings.
- Pick the emotions you want to focus on and use a cardboard backing or cork board for each one. Together, go through the magazines and find any pictures of people’s faces or words that relate to each emotion.
- Cover each board to represent one emotion. You can use coloring pens, stickers or glitter to make this fun for the kids.
- Keep the boards in an accessible area so your children can use them whenever they need.
2. The Empathy Game
This one is slightly more in-depth, focusing on developing an understanding of different experiences, and empathetic responses.
You will need:
- Different colored cards, or scrap paper
- Pens, stickers or images if you prefer
How to run the activity:
- You will need three sets of cards: one set will have different scenarios or situations written on them (you can tailor these to be typical of experiences the children might have depending on their age). Another set will have possible responses to the situation, and the final set will have an emotion written on them.
- Once you have all these written up (or you can type them up on a computer and print if easier), present your children with one of the scenario cards. An example could be ‘Tom went to school but left his gym kit at home so Tom couldn’t play football. How does Tom feel?‘ Ask your children to use the response and emotion cards to explain how they think Tom might feel.
- Encourage discussion and communication around why your children have chosen the responses they have. While there should be no hard wrong or right answers, be sure to question responses and encourage empathetic thinking.
3. Positive Problem Solving
This activity coaches children to think more about what problems they might be facing and how to overcome them. It can also help them to separate their emotions from their experiences, and instead focus on positive ways to handle challenges.
You will need:
- A print out that you can find here. This can be printed large (A3) and laminated so it is reusable, or multiple smaller charts for use over different scenarios.
How to run the activity:
- Once a week or month, sit down with your children and use the print-out chart to explore the ‘problems’ or challenges that they have come up against. Get them to think about how big or small they felt these challenges were, and how they reacted.
- Make sure you spend time exploring and listening to what your children tell you about their problems. Ask them to describe their reactions, both during the scenario and perhaps a day later. How did they feel? Why do they think they reacted that way? How would they like to react next time?
- For each scenario, get your child to write down what they think the very best way for them to react would be. Create a card or small mood board for each ‘problem’ with positive words and pictures that represent the best way they could react.
- Keep these somewhere visual so your child can be reminded what a positive reaction to a problem might be.
- Revisit the printout as often as you like, each time exploring and discussing ways to overcome the problems that your child comes up against and positive ways to respond.
12 Tips for Coaches
Taking on the role of coach for young children might seem a little daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right tools, knowledge, and preparation, you can make sure you deliver a really rewarding experience for everyone involved.
Here are 12 tips to help you deliver a positive and productive experience:
- Remember the key ingredient: Fun – Children are most actively engaged and learn the best when the activity is FUN. When coaching, make sure you use a variety of different activities with a good dose of play. Keep activities short, sweet and you’ll keep the kids engaged for as long as you need them.
- Spend some time learning your children’s goals – Make sure you don’t decide for them, give your children the platform they need to speak up and tell you what they want. And be open to whatever that might be at this stage in their life. If they say their goal is to be a Monster Hunter – so be it! Roll with it and maybe show them some of the ‘monsters’ at the local zoo.
- Think about a coach who inspired you – If you’re not sure where to start, think about a coach from your own life who inspired you. What was it about them that stood out? What did they do or say? How did that make you feel? Use this as the foundation to be the coach you want, to best support your own children.
- Explore what you want to get out of the experience – This is really important. It’s one thing to want to be the supportive parent, but another to take over and control how your child will spend their time (by pushing them into a sport you want for example). Be honest and make sure you know what your motivations are, and how the experience will also shape you.
- Mind the generation gap – How things were done ‘in your day’ is not how they will be done now. The ways your children will want to engage and learn might be completely different from your own childhood. Technology is a huge part of childhood now so trying to remove it because it wasn’t part of yours isn’t going to work. Find ways to utilize different activities and resources and meet your children where they’re at, not where you think they should be.
- Don’t forget about individuality – Any parent of more than one child will know that they each have their own personality and individuality. Don’t try to force a ‘one size fits all’ model when it comes to coaching. Get to understand and appreciate individual differences, and use this to help develop a positive coaching experience.
- Learn the art of listening – People often forget the crucial part of encouraging open communication: active listening. Effective coaching involves a lot of listening, allowing space for feelings, and letting children talk through their ideas without feeling judged. Make sure you listen more than you lecture.
- Don’t criticize, be constructive – It can be very easy to go down the criticizing route – especially if we are used to having been repeatedly criticized ourselves. Make sure any feedback you give is constructive and instructive. Research shows that this encourages far better self-esteem, and motivational results, over criticism.
- Manage your own expectations (and emotions) – Coaching children to manage their own expectations and emotions means you need to have a strong handle on your own. As a coach, you represent a strong role model. To deliver effective coaching, you need to model the behavior you want to see in your children.
- Be mindful of limitations – A great coaching experience means knowing when to draw the line, take a break, and try again at another time. This is where listening to your child and being aware of their individual character can really help ensure it’s a positive experience for all.
- Don’t dismiss the wins – While it’s important to make sure children understand and respect failing, it’s also important not to downplay when they do win! Make sure you give a good balance of celebrating when they win in positive ways. Pick out specific aspects of what they did that helped them achieve the success and praise them for that over the end result.
- Get feedback – Don’t make any assumptions about how your child feels about being coached. Ask them for their feedback: what do they enjoy about the experience? What would they like to change? Do they feel it’s helping them? Do they think you could do something better? Asking these questions will increase your child’s trust and communication with you, and help you both understand how to keep making this a great experience.
8 Coaching Tools and Resources
As more understanding of the benefits of coaching – particularly emotion-coaching – for children develops, the more resources there are to help you coach your children in positive, fun ways.
Below is a selection of fantastic coaching tools and resources I’ve found that can help you build your knowledge further or get underway with some activities of your own:
1. Emotion Coaching Handout
This is a great handout all about Emotion Coaching, that many new parents might find beneficial. It’s concise but gives a great breakdown of the steps involved in emotion coaching.
2. Affies for Kids
Affies for Kids is a YouTube channel with a great range of activities, audio-books, and songs, all aimed at helping coach children about emotional responses and personal skills development.
3. Emotional Remote Control (Free printable)
This is a great little visual tool to help remind children that they control their emotions, not vice versa. It has ‘buttons’ that give instructions to remind your child what to do when their emotions feel overwhelming.
4. Be Mindful Activity Cards
A colorful and fun deck of 24 cards detailing different emotions and ways of being kind to each other.
5. Family Personal Growth Journals
These journals feature daily and weekly prompts to reflect on personal goals, achievements, and successes for the whole family. Each one is tailored for either parents or children of different ages and can be worked on together or individually.
6. Moving Past Pain (Free printable)
This is a great tool for slightly older children for exploring and overcoming physical or emotional pain. It works as a diary entry with question prompts to help them understand what they’re feeling, why and how to work through the experience.
7. Emotional Reset Button (Free printable)
This is a fun little printable that can help teach kids it’s okay to simply hit reset! With a giant ‘Reset’ button and another side where they can write how they want to feel instead, this is a great little tool to remind children not to take things too seriously. They can always take control and reset the day.
8. The A-Team Social Skills Book Series
A great little book series that centers around a group of children with differing social skills and needs. The series was developed to encourage better communication and understanding about Autism, but the books are a great tool for developing language that can be used for everyone.
A Take Home Message
I hope after reading this article you have a renewed sense of what coaching is, what value it can bring to both the coach and coachee and how beneficial it can be for young children!
The key thing I want you to take away from this if you’re thinking of coaching your own children, or young people in general, is that there is no one size fits all. Coaching is about bringing out the best in everyone you support, in the ways that work best for them. The measurements for success and happiness will vary greatly depending on the individual.
If you’re a coach who works with young children, I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips for successful coaching. Feel free to leave any comments in the section below.
- Baras, R. (2019). Child Coaching. Retrieved from: https://www.behappyinlife.com/child-coaching/
- Bloom, A. (2009). Beware the carrot: rewards don’t work. Retrieved from: https://www.tes.com/news/beware-carrot-rewards-dont-work
- Cambridge Dictionary (2019). Definition of ‘Life Coach’. Retrieved from: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/life-coach
- Gallwey, T. (1986). The Inner Game of Tennis. Pan MacMillan. London: United Kingdom.
- Gottman, J. M. (1993). The roles of conflict engagement, escalation, or avoidance in marital interaction: A longitudinal view of five types of couples. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61.
- Gottman, J. M., Katz, L. F., & Hooven, C. (1996). Parental Meta-Emotion Philosophy and the Emotional Life of Families: Theoretical Models and Preliminary Data. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lynn_Katz/publication/232602696_Parental_Meta-Emotion_Philosophy_and_the_Emotional_Life_of_Families_Theoretical_Models_and_Preliminary_Data/links/54b5100f0cf2318f0f97179e.pdf
- Robbins, T. (2019). Life Coach vs. Therapist. Retrieved from; https://www.tonyrobbins.com/coaching/life-coach-vs-therapist/
- Rose, J., McGuire-Snieckus, R., & Gilbert, L. (2015). Emotion Coaching – a strategy for promoting behavioral self-regulation in children/young people in schools: A pilot study. Retrieved from: https://www.futureacademy.org.uk/files/menu_items/other/13vol159.pdf
- Stephens, D. (2018). 6 Differences Between Coaching and Therapy. Retrieved from: https://www.coachilla.co/blog/6-differences-between-coaching-and-therapy
- Weare, K. & Gray, G. (2003). What Works in Developing Children’s Emotional and Social Competence and Wellbeing? Retrieved from: https://learning.gov.wales/docs/learningwales/publications/121129emotionalandsocialcompetenceen.pdf
- Whitmore, J. (2004). Coaching for Performance, 3rd Edition. Nicolas Brealey Publishing. Boston; MA.