Maintaining Strong Family Relationships in Adverse Environments

Dr. Lynn Fainsilber Katz’s program of research

For more than 25 years, CCFW Associate Director Dr. Lynn Fainsilber Katz has studied how families maintain strong family relationships in the face of adverse environments and life events, and how emotionally sensitive parenting can protect children and support positive outcomes.  She developed the concept of “emotion coaching” as a parenting practice that helps children develop their ability to manage their emotions. She has also conducted studies of family relationship and emotion coaching with various at-risk populations, including survivors of intimate partner violence, children with conduct-related problems, and families of children newly diagnosed with cancer.  

What is Emotion Coaching?

Emotion coaching is a style of parenting that supports the development of children’s ability to regulate their emotions.  Parents who are emotion coaching:

  • Are aware of low intensity emotions in themselves and their children.
  • View their children’s negative emotions as an opportunity for intimacy or teaching.
  • Validate and empathize with their children’s emotion
  • Label their children’s emotions.
  • Discuss goals and strategies for dealing with the situation that led to the emotion.

Across many studies, two of which are detailed below, she found that when parents were emotion coaching their children show fewer behavior problems, higher academic achievement, greater attentional abilities, less negative and more positive peer relations, fewer stress-related illnesses and greater physiological regulatory abilities.  

An Emotion Coaching Parenting Program for Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence

In her teams research, they found that emotional coaching benefits children, even within the context of family violence and intimate partner violence – so Dr. Katz built on her basic research findings and developed a parenting intervention for female survivors. Several community partners helped the team spread the word about and housed the program at their site, including DAWN, New Beginnings, and Eastside Domestic Violence Program (now LifeWire). After a 12-week parenting program, mothers in the parenting program showed improvements in emotion awareness and coaching, increased in their own emotion regulation abilities, increased use of validation with their children, and felt more confident in their parenting. Children whose mothers participated in the parenting program showed improved emotion regulation abilities, decreased negative behavior towards their mothers, and decreased levels of depression. 

Emotion Coaching and Behaviorally-Based Parenting for Children with Conduct-Related Problems

Based on the promising finding of the program for survivors of intimate partner violence, Dr. Katz has expanded the emotion coaching intervention work to other at-risk populations.  In collaboration with Dr. Robert McMahon at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, her team developed a parenting intervention that combined emotion coaching (EC) with one particular behaviorally-based parenting program called Helping the Non-Compliant Child (HNC) to help young children with oppositional defiant disorder and low prosocial emotions.  Several community partners were involved in this effort, including Community Psychiatric Clinic, Compass Health, HopeSparks, and Seattle Children’s Hospital. Preliminary results from the combined HNC-EC program are promising and she is in the process of publishing their findings.

Pediatric Cancer and Family Adjustment:  Understanding Family Relationships at a Stressful Time

One major focus of Dr. Katz’s current efforts is in understanding adjustment and coping in families with children who have been newly diagnosed with cancer.  Her team assessed families over the course of their first year of cancer treatment to identify when families are at greatest risk for psychological distress. The quality of family relationships was examined in multiple family subsystems, including the inter-adult, parent-child and sibling relationships. This study focuses on the stresses families experience, changes in family relationships over the course of treatment, and both risk and protective factors that are associated with adjustment outcomes in children and caregivers.  Several papers have been published on this dataset and her team continues to analyze findings.  

Want a deeper dive? Read a list of Dr. Katz’s papers.

What’s Next?

We will be seeking funding and partners to continue implementing and evaluating the Emotion Coaching Parenting Program. Our hope is to offer the program at additional sites through community organizations that serve a diverse range of families, to see if the results will be replicated. 

Dr. Katz has received 25 years of continuous funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Cancer Institute, and the UW’s Royalty Research Fund.  The Emotion Coaching parenting intervention study for survivors of intimate partner violence was led by Dr. Lynn Fainsilber Katz, UW Research Professor of Psychology, Assistant Director of CCFW, and Director of UW’s Master of Arts in Applied Child and Adolescent Psychology: Prevention and Treatment. Additional authors were Kyrill Gurtovenko, Ashley Maliken, Nicole Stettler, Joy Kawamura and Kaitlyn Fladeboe, all former graduate students in the UW Department of Psychology.  The combined Emotion Coaching-Behaviorally Based Parenting program was led by Dr. Lynn Fainsilber Katz (UW) and Dr. Robert McMahon (University of British Columbia) along with co-investigators Dr. Suzanne Kerns (University of Denver), Dr. Michael Pullman (UW) and Dr. Shannon Dorsey (UW). Additional staff included Kyrill Gurtovenko and Kaitlyn Fladeboe, former graduate students in the UW Department of Psychology.