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While sitting comfortably in the MRT, you notice a child swinging from the handles. His mother urges him to stop but he refuses and starts throwing a tantrum. The whole matter escalates when the frustrated mother screams at the child to stop and the entire cabin stares at the duo.

This certainly is a very common scene in our daily lives. Have you ever been in such a situation yourself?

“Whenever my son throws a tantrum, I can’t help but feel the need to shout at him because I feel that he is being unreasonable”, said Lee Jiarui, father of a 1-year-old.

The thing that parents don’t usually notice is the fact that their toddler throws a tantrum for a reason. Parents should pause and try to understand what the underlying reason behind this sort of behaviour is before shouting or beating them.

You have to remember that negative emotions are emotions too. When you shout at them for having negative emotions, it might make them feel that being angry or sad is wrong. And if they continue cooping up their negative emotions, it could be detrimental to their growth. Hence, it is key for parents to help their child identify these emotions and find a resolution for them.

Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist, came up with five steps of Emotion Coaching. Emotion Coaching helps your kid identify and understand different emotions they experience, why are they feeling those emotions and how to deal with them.

Step 1: Be aware of emotions

  • Be sensitive and observe your child’s emotions
  • Look out for cues such as such tone of voice, facial expression, and body language

Step 2: Know that negative emotions from your child is an opportunity for bonding and learning

  • Talk to your child about his negative feeling, show them that you care
  • Share your past experiences with dealing with such emotions

Step 3: Listen to them with empathy and validate the child’s feelings

  • This step would provide them with the comfort they need
  • It shows the child that you are able to understand what they are going though
  • Avoid criticising or making judgments at their emotions

Step 4: Label the emotions

  • Children often are unsure about how or what they’re feeling. By labeling his emotions, you can help them cope with them
  • For example, when a child is angry, tell him that this is anger
  • This process helps calm the child especially when he faces negative emotions

Step 5: Set limits and find solutions to the root cause of negative emotions

  • You need to set limits to inappropriate behaviour while acknowledging their negative emotions
  • Validate a child’s emotions and not his actions
  • Let the child know the limits and consequences. Stick to these and always be consistent

Research has shown that children who undergo Emotion Coaching are likely to:

  • have better self-control
  • require lesser discipline when they’re older
  • be more focused
  • be better at coping with life’s ups and downs

Parents who have used Emotion Coaching report an improvement in their children’s behaviours. “I used to overlook my son’s emotions. When he’s throwing a tantrum I would either scold him or pass him the iPad to distract him” said Vivian Wang, mother of a 2.5-year-old boy, Seth. She added, “Seth is better behaved ever since I’ve used Emotion Coaching. I am now more sensitive and aware of my son’s emotions. A few nights ago, when he was supposed to pack his bag for the next day’s child care, he started to whine and insisted I play with him. As I played with him, I identified his emotional needs. I then told him to pack his bags, which he did so. I was happy I didn’t have to scream this time round.”

This article was contributed by Daryl Wee of Family Life Society (FLS). FLS is a registered charity and a member of National Council of Social Services, promoting marriage, family and life. FLS serves the community by providing marital and family counselling, sexuality education programmes to schools and community groups, and managing a pregnancy crisis service. For more information visit or call 6488 0278.