Emotional Talk Coaching Exercise

Charles Emmrys PhD

A child that has frequent tantrums may have difficulties expressing emotions verbally. When children learn to express emotions verbally, their tantrum behaviors frequently diminish. When the child has regular tantrums, teaching emotional language may be an important part of the solution. One way to teach emotional language is to coach the child right after each tantrum.

As soon as the child has calmed down from their tantrum, the parents should get him or her to use emotional language in the following way:

  • Start by asking the following three questions, namely (1) What made you angry (2) What feeling did you have (3) Do you think I understood what made you angry? If he answers, congratulate him for answering but do not discuss his answers. Your goal is to have him express something. It is not important that it make adult sense.
  • If the child cannot answer the questions, then give the child words to answer with and get him to voice the answer you give him. For example, you might coach your son to the first question by prompting: “Tommy, say ‘I didn’t want to go to my bedroom’ say it” (and wait for him to say it)
  • To the second question, you might coach the following answer “Now, Tommy, say ‘when you asked me I felt really mad.’ Say it” (and wait for him to voice the words)
  • To the third question, you might coach “now ask me if I understood, say ‘do you understand mommy’ say it” (and wait for him to say the words)

This prompting routine will allow the child to practice emotional language. Even when the words used are the ones you came up with and even if the exercise seems contrived, it still allows the child to practice emotional language. Being persistent in doing the exercise after tantrums does lead to progress.

Note as well that even when the parent is not completely sure of the reason for an outburst, they should take a good guess and proceed with the exercise as if the guess was indeed the real reason. Parents should remember that this is not a truth finding exercise. It is a way to practice emotional speech. Precision as to cause is not that important at this stage.

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