Coaching Youth on Emotion Skills

Staff should show respect for youth’s emotional autonomy by taking care not to manipulate youth or tell them what they should feel. This process is sometimes called emotion coaching.

The key idea is that the coach is a “guide on the side” who contributes interpretations, guiding questions, suggestions, encouragement, and support in unobtrusive ways that respect autonomy as a youth experiences and attempts to manage ongoing emotional episodes. Through sensitive and timely coaching, staff support youth in learning effective emotion skills. Staff goals in dealing with emotions include not just helping youth resolve a situation but helping youth learn about the complex and irregular dynamics of emotions and emotional situations. The types of coaching staff provide may include fostering awareness and reflection, suggesting strategies, and encouraging problem solving.

When staff coach, they gently support a journey where the youth learn to articulate their emotions. They do this by encouraging youth to process and reflect on their emotions and their lives and take the lead in their emotional learning. Even with positive emotions, staff come alongside to gently encourage reflection and emotional growth. Rendy Freeman, Co-Executive Director at AHA! Attitude, Harmony, Achievement (AHA!), explained how she responded to a teen who has just expressed to her romantic crush that she likes her:

Quote markShe is on cloud nine. She acts like all of her problems of self-worth are solved. I help her feel great about her skills without making it about the love object. Her hope and optimism about the relationship make her feel important, loved, worthwhile. I show excitement with her, affirming her powerful feelings and guiding her in her choice in the matter.

In some cases staff also help youth channel strong emotion into new goals (e.g., turning an emotional response into a program goal or plan) or motivation to keep making progress toward existing goals. At YWCA Boston (YW Boston), much of the content is focused on raising awareness of disparities among social groups, and Beth Chandler shared that an important part of the work is “to help the youth think about steps they can take to not just feel frustrated or helpless, but there are some systemic issues that exist that you too can help address now that you are aware of them.”

Further Reading

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How do you help guide youth towards healthy emotions without invalidating their feelings?