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Dr Sarah Temple
A family doctor with more than 20 years experience working with children in both General Practice and Mental Health Services. Trained to run Emotion Coaching Parenting Courses. She has a special interest in the link between child and parental wellbeing.
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Child mental health & wellbeing

Mindful Emotion Coaching

Mindful Emotion Coaching aims to build emotional resilience by talking about the emotions behind behaviours. It is based on understanding the neuroscience of brain development and mindful awareness.
Video Tutorial
In Short
Through non invasive scanning of very young babies and children the brain has come to be seen as a ‘social organ'.

Normal development of the young brain is dependent on stimulation through social interaction and also influenced by many other factors including genetics, physical health and diet.

The importance of inter connectedness and relationships in human development has been extensively researched.

We know the human brain continues developing until the age of 25, sometimes 30

New connections form all the time in our brains as we interact and socialize - however key times when our brains form lots of new connections are during the first two to three years of life and as a teenager.

This article brings together the current understanding of mindfulness, emotion regulation and emotion intelligence with John Gottman's 5 steps of Emotion Coaching. It offers parents practical ideas for re training brains and developing our emotion resilience.

The thinking and feeling parts of your child’s brain

Your child’s brain is like a computer. It processes information from the world around and tries to make sense of it. However, your child’s brain is also a social organ and needs other brains to interact with to work at its best.

How does your child’s brain work and grow?

Your child’s brain is organized into different areas of responsibility – including sight, smell, emotions, logic, and memory. The different areas are connected by a network of a hundred billion neurons. The more he uses the network, the more connections are made and the bigger, better and faster his developing brain becomes.

The important parts of your child’s brain


The part of your child’s brain that governs emotion is called the amygdala – it’s in the centre of the brain and near the top of the brain stem. The amygdala acts like an accelerator on emotions – anger, fear, sadness, joy, disgust and surprise.

Prefrontal Cortex

The thinking part of your child’s brain is called the prefrontal cortex – and this acts as a brake on emotions.

Your child will be able to make the best decisions when these different parts of his brain connect well with each other and also with the brain stem (Please see Dr. Daniel Siegel’s, “The Whole Brain Child”).

How your child’s brain develops

Through non-invasive scanning of very young babies and children, the brain has been understood to be a ‘social organ.’ The normal development of the brain relies on stimulation through social interaction and is influenced as well by other factors including epigenetics, physical health, and diet. Key figures in the research in this area include John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, and Mary Main.

All this means is that a baby is born with a basic brain structure. Then neural connections are encouraged by stimulating that brain through interaction.

Connections form in human brains all the time – but the bulk of the connections are made in the first two years of life.

How your child’s brain influences their behaviour

How a child behaves is determined by what happens within his brain.

Your child can be encouraged to calm the emotion areas of their brain (the amygdala) by stimulating the thinking part of it (the pre-frontal cortex).

Mindfulness, mindful exercises, and emotion coaching are all ways that your child can build up his emotional resilience.

One of the ways the thinking part of your child’s brain works to calm his bodily responses and help him to stay emotionally balanced is via what’s called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve travels from the brain stem to all the key organs in the body doing things like lowering heart rate and breathing rates.

John Gottman and Emotion Coaching

The main idea behind John Gottman‘s Emotion Coaching is that all feelings are accepted as “normal” – but not all behavior is acceptable. That is – feelings can always be talked about. “Name it to tame it” is a phrase used by Professor Dan Siegel – by naming emotions your child can stimulate the thinking part of his brain which stimulates the vagus nerve and calms his bodily responses to his feelings.

The main message of Emotion Coaching is that it is normal to have all sorts of feelings and that we can get better at understanding about how to manage our own behaviour.

The core emotions

There are core emotions that all humans experience. These include:

  • Anger.
  • Sadness.
  • Disgust.
  • Surprise.
  • Fear.
  • Joy.

Dr. Paul Ekman studied emotions and facial experiences across many cultures and was able to conclude that human emotions are universal. Everything we see, feel, touch, and taste (i.e., ‘experience’) passes through the emotional part of our brain (how we feel) and the thinking part of our brain (how we respond to the feeling).

John Gottman’s five steps of Emotion Coaching

What they mean in practice is that you and your teenager need to:

  1. Tune in.
  2. Connect with the people around you.
  3. Recognise feelings and empathise with them.
  4. Validate feelings – try to define and label them.
  5. Problem solve.

Professor John Gottman from the University of Washington has written extensively on this subject. To find out more about you can also look at the work of my colleagues at Melbourne University, Australia on their “Tuning into Teens” and “Tuning into Kids” website. Emotion coaching is about building and enriching relationships. The problem solving comes last – after you’ve talked about your feelings.

When both you and your child are calm and relaxed, you can try talking about ways of recognizing your feelings swiftly, and both of you choosing to calm the emotional part of your brains before you “flip your lid.”

Seeing the brain as a social organ dependent upon relationships with other people and understanding how our brains develop early on in our lives helps parents and teenagers to understand their emotions.

As your child gets better at understanding how the emotion centre in his brain connects with other areas he can start to change how he behaves when he experiences strong emotions.

Your child can choose to take the time to practice mindfulness every day, for instance, as a way of changing the neural pathways in his brain. This practice can help your teenager to stay calmer when emotions start to rise. The Headspace app can be a good place to start with simple mindfulness meditation exercises as well as some of the exercises I mention in the video, eating mindfully, noticing our body in the present and breathing mindfully.

EHCAP & Dr Sarah Temple

Led by Dr Sarah Temple, EHCAP offers consultancy and training packages putting Emotion Coaching and the Neuroscience of Emotion regulation at the heart of Person Centred Practice.

EHCAP looks at the 5 practical steps of Emotion Coaching and how to apply these in everyday situations.

The training is multiagency, multi age and designed to be run by two facilitators.

EHCAP’s online resources www.emotioncoaching.co.uk provides the core information, enabling us all to keep a common language across services as well as with parents and young people.

The EHCAP e-learning modules can be found on http://www.emotionintelligence.co.uk.

Essential Parent recommends EHCAP as a centre of excellence. If you want to find out more in general – click here.

If you would like to contact Dr Sarah Temple directly – please click – http://www.doctorsarah.co.uk

References and Evidence

Somerset Emotion Coaching Project 2015 – Evaluation.

Gottman, J. M. & DeClair, J. (1997). The Heart of Parenting: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. New York: Simon & Schuster.

https://www.gottman.com/about/research/ – Professor John Gottman Research Base.

Daniel J Siegel The Whole Brain Child.

http://www.drdansiegel.com/about/mindsight/ – Dr Dan Siegel Research base.

Developing Adult Capabilities- Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University.

Havighurst, S. S., Wilson, K. R., Harley, A. E., Prior, M. R., & Kehoe, C. (2010). Tuning in to Kids™: Improving emotion socialization practices in parents of preschool children – findings from a community trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51(12), 1342-1350.

Share the knowledge
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.