Ann Harley is the training manager for the Tuning in to Kids parenting program and has over 30 years experience in parent education. She talks about tricky childhood emotions and behaviours and how emotion coaching can work wonders for families.

In your experience, what are the top parenting issues when it comes to managing challenging emotions and behaviour in children?  

"It depends on the age and stage of the children. For parents of young children, the issues might be around how to manage tantrums and strong emotions and tricky behaviours. They may also struggle with eating and bedtime routines as well as children’s fears and worries and friendship difficulties. It can also be hard to be confident about what you are doing when there is so much confusing information out there, especially for new parents or parents whose children are reaching a new age and stage. An issue for many parents, no matter the age of their children, is taking time out to care for themselves so that they have enough energy to care for their children." 

What are your top strategies for parents and carers when managing these issues?

"At Tuning in to Kids we focus on building strong relationships between parents and children. Understanding more about when to intervene if children are starting to get upset, how to intervene and what to say are all important strategies in helping to deal with children's challenging emotions and behaviours. Tuning in to Kids is a research-based parenting program designed to teach parents about emotions in themselves and their children and how to 'emotion coach' children through sometimes difficult emotional times. We teach emotion coaching strategies – originally developed by Dr John Gottman in Seattle – to:

  • notice emotions (or ‘tune in’), particularly when they are just beginning and are quite small in intensity 
  • take the opportunity to try to understand what is happening for the child and how and why they might be feeling that way (to empathise) 
  • see these moments as times to connect with the child and to help them to understand what is going on for them emotionally
  • help them to use words to describe how they feel 
  • if necessary, help the child come up with some solutions.

As we emphasise to parents, it is important to communicate that all wishes and feelings are acceptable but some behaviours are not."

What is the Tuning in to Kids program and how successful is it?

"The Tuning in to Kids program is unique in that it focuses on the emotional connection between parents and children, rather than just controlling children’s behaviour. The program is a world first in applying what we know developmentally about emotionally responsive parenting and children’s emotional competence to an intervention that helps create positive changes for parents and children. 

Tuning in to Kids has been tested as a program for parents of preschool children, primary school-aged children with behaviour problems, and parents of pre-adolescents. The research so far has shown very good outcomes with the program improving parenting, parent-child connections, children’s emotional competence and children’s behaviour. These changes are known to be associated with improved resilience, prevention of later mental health difficulties, and reductions in the development of antisocial behaviour problems."

What resources can you recommend to parents and carers to help them manage children’s emotions and behaviours?

"Here are some useful books for tuning in to kids:

  • Emotionally Intelligent Parenting. Maurice J. Elias, Steven E. Tobias and Brian S. Friedlander (1999), Doubleday, New York.
  • How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids will Talk. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (1980, 2000), Avon Books, New York.
  • Siblings Without Rivalry. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (1987, 1998), Avon Books, New York.
  • How to Talk So Kids will Learn, in Home and at School. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (1996), New York Fireside, New York.
  • Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting. John Gottman, (1997), Simon & Schuster, New York.
  • Building Emotional Intelligence. Linda Lantieri (2008), Sounds True Inc. New York. (This book comes with a CD of relaxation and meditation for children.)
  • Smiling At Yourself — Educating Young Children About Stress and Self Esteem. A Mendler (1990), Network Publications, California.
  • Loving Your Child is Not Enough, Positive Discipline that Works. Nancy Samalin (1988), Penguin, New York.
  • Love and Anger — the Parental Dilemma. Nancy Samalin (1992), Penguin Books, New York.
  • Loving Each One Best: A Caring and Practical Approach to Raising Siblings. Nancy Samalin with C. Whitney (1996), Bantam Books, New York.
  • Sometimes I feel... How to help your child manage difficult feelings. Samantha Seymour (2009), Finch Publishing, Sydney.
  • The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive. Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson (2011), Ph.D.Delacorte Press.
  • You are My World. Amy Hatkoff (2007), Stewart, Tabori and Chang, New York.
  • What Every Parent Needs to Know. Margot Sunderland (2008), Dorling Kindersley, London. (The hardback edition of this book is called The Science of Parenting.)"

For more information, go to