Pastoral support: Anticipation and preparation

Written by: Licette Gus | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Pre-emotion coaching supports children’s ability to regulate feelings. Educational psychologist Licette Gus takes a quick look at this technique

Emotion coaching is increasingly being used as an approach in schools to support children’s ability to understand and manage their emotions, particularly negative emotions. As a result of emotion coaching, children’s ability to label their emotions, explain why they are feeling that way and find strategies for managing those feelings and situations in the future is increased.

Improvements in pupil behaviour and academic progress have accompanied children’s increased emotional competence (Gus et al 2017, Rose et al 2015). An additional benefit of adults engaging in emotion coaching with pupils is that adults feel more “in control” and less controlling in their interactions with children, and staff feel calmer and more confident in their ability to support children’s emotional needs in schools.

Emotion coaching stems from the work in family relationships and communication by John Gottman (1997) and has been transferred to educational settings. The essential ideas can be thought of as following a series of steps:

  1. Becoming aware of a child’s emotions and empathise with the feeling.
  2. Label and validate the emotion.
  3. Set limits on behaviour (if needed).
  4. Help the child to problem solve.

The idea of emotion coaching is that adults respond to pupils’ experience of emotion “in the moment” and as such, emotion coaching can be viewed as a way of communicating with all pupils throughout the day.

Some teachers who have embraced emotion coaching as a “way of being” with their pupils have also applied the steps of emotion coaching in a preventative way – prior to an event. These teachers anticipate how a pupil or group of pupils might feel about a future situation, and then prepare them for this by using emotion coaching techniques.

Dan Ryan, a year 3 teacher at Preston Park Primary School in Brent, London, was aware that his class became very excited during assemblies, particularly assemblies to which parents and carers were invited. Prior to a recent assembly Mr Ryan, anticipated that this would again be the case.

The day before the assembly Mr Ryan spoke with the class about feeling excited by the assembly, and the fact that with some of their parents being there that maybe they would even feel “over-excited”. Mr Ryan and the class talked about what behaviours they display when they feel excited: talking, giggling, laughing, waving arms about and maybe accidentally hitting or banging into others.

Mr Ryan and the children then considered how this might look to the parents and reflected upon whether this the way they wanted their parents to see them at this important assembly. The class then came up with ideas of what they could do to help themselves “calm down” when they noticed themselves becoming over-excited.

Mr Ryan and the class had been regularly practising deep-breathing as a regulatory strategy. The class thought deep breathing might be a practical strategy for that particular context and the class had a little session practising their deep breathing. Mr Ryan said he was pleasantly surprised at how well the assembly had gone and how calm and in control the children had been.

Ryan Kilby, headteacher of Meadow View Farm School in Leicestershire – a primary SEMH provision – tells of a school trip where he had anticipated a young pupil of his would find some of the arrangements anxiety-provoking and frustrating.

Mr Kilby prepared the pupil by saying normally that Tom (not his real name) “likes to sit at the front of the bus, but on this occasion he will not be able to and will need to sit on a seat third row from the front. Tom will find this very annoying and it will make him feel cross and a bit angry. In the past when Tom has felt like that he has tried to push other pupils out of the seat”.

Mr Kilby explained that it was okay to prefer to have a particular seat, but that it cannot always be the case that you can sit there and this time Tom will not be able to have his preference. They agreed that it would help Tom if he was listening to his favourite music once he was in his seat. The next day Tom was able to get to his seat on the bus without incident and enjoy the school trip.

In many ways this idea of anticipation and preparation of the emotions that relate to a situation is similar to Social Stories (Gray 2007). However, this idea of pre-emotion coaching by anticipating and preparing for the emotions makes the emotional content of the event much more explicit.

In a state of mental and emotional calm the children can “rehearse” the situation, the feelings associated with it and how they might manage that situation. The four steps of pre-emotion coaching might look like:

  1. Anticipate what the children might feel in a future situation.
  2. Label those feelings, maybe commenting on the physical response the children might notice and explain or consider why they might be feeling like that.
  3. Remind children of expectations for behaviour.
  4. Help the children to come up with suitable strategies for that situation.

References and further reading

  • Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. The Heart of Parenting, Gottman & Declaire, Simon and Schuster, 1997.
  • Writing social stories with Carol Gray, Gray, Future Horizons, 2007.
  • The Introduction of Emotion Coaching as a Whole School Approach in a Primary Specialist Social Emotional and Mental Health Setting: Positive Outcomes for All, The Open Family Studies Journal, Gus, Rose, Gilbert & Kilby, 2017.
  • Emotion Coaching: A strategy for promoting behavioural self-regulation in children and young people in schools: A pilot study, European Journal of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Rose, Gilbert & McGuire-Sniekus, 2015.
  • Pastoral support: Emotion coaching, Gus & Meldrum-Carter, Headteacher Update, March 2017: http://bit.ly/2og390C


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