Emotion Coaching: A Guide to Managing Challenging Behaviour

Updated: Jan 30, 2019

In September 2018, Discover My World ELC welcomed Michael Hawton to present a Parent Workshop on his latest book, 'Talk Less, Listen More'. Michael Hawton is an acclaimed author, psychologist, teacher and father with a wealth of research and knowledge behind him. Our educator team captured a few of the key messages & learning from this amazing workshop!


Talk Less, Listen More

“Begin with the end in mind – what do you want for your children?”


As children grow in this world, we need to provide them with tools and methods to ensure that they are the best human beings that they can be.


Parents have 3 jobs:


1. Help their children to reach maturity.

Parents are responsible for helping children to balance their emotions. In saying this, tantrums are normal for 2 and 3 year olds and these often have little to do with the parents! Most problem behaviour is multi-factorial (there are often many reasons behind behaviour challenges).


2. Protect their wellbeing.

Parents must ensure their children get enough sleep, eat the right foods and need to make decisions for them daily. Adults have the complete psychological mind, therefore they are able to make well-informed decisions about what they believe is best for their child.


3. Teach the difference between appropriate vs inappropriate behaviour.

Through consistent boundaries and persistence from parents, children will learn the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviours. They will learn to take context into account when making decisions between right and wrong.



Our Brains


To summarise, we have a section at the back of our brain called the ‘Old Brain’ and a section at the front called our ‘New Brain’.


The Old Brain is responsible for ‘driving’ the brain. It helps you survive in dangerous situations. It is the ‘primitive’ part of thinking, for example the fight or flight response.


The New Brain is responsible for focusing and coordinating language, emotion and context. This part of the brain needs to be trained and maintained by a child’s parents to remain strong.



If the New Brain is not trained, it will be overtaken. When the old brain overtakes the new brain, it causes irritability and anxiety. Without the New Brain, a child cannot rationalise and doesn’t have the control to make a ‘right’ decision.


Difficult behaviour is often an emotional over reaction. The vast majority of challenging behaviour is a result of emotional regulation. If a child can be taught to regulate their emotions, there are less likely to behave in a way that is challenging.


Everyone has some degree of ability to exert self-control. This degree is dependent on a variety of factors and begins from when we are babies! Not enough sleep, too much digital time and not enough nutrients all affect children’s developing brains and ability to regulate their emotions.



What is Toggling?


Has your child ever made that scrunched-up face when trying to figure something out?


When thoughts from both the old and new brain collide, a person must ‘toggle their brain’ and come to a final decision. Our new brain prevents us from making rash decisions based on impulses from our old brain. It considers context and consequence.


For example, if a child becomes angry with another child, their Old Brain may be thinking, “Hit the other child!” but their New Brain says “We know that hitting other people is inappropriate behaviour.” It is important to allow children time to ‘toggle their brain’ in these situations so that they can practice making good decisions for themselves.


The ‘scrunch face’ means your child is thinking! Give them time.


When children are two, they are the most violent people on earth! They hit, they push, they bite, the pinch, they scratch… but they grow out of it! They learn to regulate their emotions and they learn the consequences. They are socialised by their parents to know that kind of behaviour is inappropriate.




There are 3 things parents can control: Sleep, Technology and Diet

Sleep, Technology and Diet


Michael shared his experience that often, parents want to be liked by their child, and sometimes this can cause a ‘soft’ parenting approach. Parents may be scared that if they discipline their child too harshly, the child will begin to resent them. However – this couldn’t be further from the truth!






Parents need to trust that their attachment with their child is strong enough to withstand an authoritative stance. It is a parent’s job to set boundaries for their children – don’t ever sacrifice respect on the alter of being ‘liked’!



Parents are the Arbiters of Society


Parents need to be authoritative (not authoritarian) and provide guidance to children. Lack of guidance can produce results akin to emotional abuse as a child!


Children need structure.


Children who do best come from environments that are warm and firm. They know that their parents love them but there are also set rules and boundaries when it comes to behaviour. There are three things that parents have control over when their children are little: sleep, technology and diet.


Michael spoke about a separate section of the brain that is labelled as the ‘Default Mode Network’. This is the part of the brain that operates when children are not on their devices.


This is why play is so important! This part of the brain is responsible for dealing with complex issues, resolving conflict and inner thinking about oneself. It only activates when children are not focused on the outside world (eg. On a tablet) but while they are daydreaming, sleeping and imagining!




Find out more in Michael's latest book,

'Talk Less, Listen More'



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