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How Thomas the Tank Engine Can Make Your Kids Smart & Popular

Intriguing title, no?  You’re going to have to stick with me a little on this one because I’m technically posting on Emotional Coaching.  Now, hold on – before you go to click away from the “touchy feely” post, read a little further.  I promise this wasn’t a bait and switch, Thomas will make it in!


The quick and dirty on Emotional Coaching is basically this:
  1. The goal is to help kids to be aware of emotions and to learn how to express and regulate them.
  2. The parent’s role is to model how to express, regulate, and react to emotions and to regularly discuss emotions with their kids.
So why all the focus on emotions?  Research has shown that a child’s social and emotional skills are key building blocks for cognitive development, stress management, language acquisition, school readiness, and strong peer relationships.


There’s a chain reaction that occurs for that last part, aka your kid having friends and being popular (of course the stress on popularity here is a joke – the goal is simply to help your child build meaningful and successful relationships).  The chain goes like this:

Increased Emotional Awareness and Regulation -> Improved Communication Skills -> Improved Conflict Resolution Skills -> Increased Confidence and Self-esteem ->  Strengthened Relationships with Parents and Peers 


Have I sold you on the concept yet?  Wanna learn exactly how to be an emotional coach? (And find out where Thomas fits in all of this?)  Read on for the 5 basic steps:


1. Become aware of your child’s emotions.
2. Recognize emotions as opportunities for connecting with and teaching your child.
3. Listen empathetically and validate your child’s feelings.
4. Help your child find words to label his or her emotions.
5. If the emotions stem from a problem (i.e. not wanting to share or to be left), set limits while exploring strategies to solve the issue.


A little disclaimer, I am not an expert on this – I’m simply sharing because I feel I’ve already seen some positive effects of limited Emotional Coaching with C.  For more information on each of these steps (especially #5 – it’s a doozy) either google “Emotional Coaching” or check out John Gottman’s book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.


Now that the learning and memorization parts of the post are over, lets get to the fun stuff – Thomas.  You can certainly get all the benefits I’m about to describe by reading Thomas books (and we do that too) but I’m going to use the example of the Thomas TV show.  Yes, that’s right, I let my 2 year old watch some TV.  I know, I know – call CPS, I’m a terrible parent. (In all seriousness I do have mommy-guilt about the limited TV that C watches – but that’s another post for another time).  I try to redeem myself for the TV by actively watching it with C, asking him questions about what’s going on and attempting to incorporate a lesson of some sort when possible.


Unfortunately, my efforts to steer C towards Sesame Street have failed miserably and he is only interested in Thomas and Friends.  There’s not a whole lot of numbers, letters, etc. to learn about in the show but there are plenty of emotions.  Embarrassment, jealousy, pride, fear, excitement, disappointment and confusion all make regular appearances.


So I’ve been making a concerted effort to talk about these emotions with C while we watch.  I think it’s really helping him to identify different emotions in himself and others.  He now regularly recaps incidents in the past (usually a whole 5 minutes past) by describing his emotions, “C was sad but now C is happy”.  Are you seeing how this plays in with Emotional Coaching? (Hint: see step #4 above).


What do you think?  Is Thomas going to make C super successful when he gets bigger?  Or am I just deluding myself into feeling less guilty while he watches TV and I get some laundry done?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Momma McCall January 18, 2011 at 6:19 am

I think you are totally right. I have a non-verbal three year old who has recently taken to online computer games like those on sprout online and PBS kids. thomasandfriends.com has a game where the engines come out of the sheds each with a different emotion on their faces. I read to my son what emotion he should look for(“which engine is sad?”) and to my surprise the very first time he was able to choose the correct train for each question! He’s a huge Thomas fan and I have no doubt that the show has helped him learn to identify these emotions.


Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com January 18, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Momma McCall – Thanks for the tip on the online game. I’ll definitely be checking it out.


Heather January 18, 2011 at 8:13 pm

You are totally right! Both my 3 year old son and 18 month old daughter LOVE Thomas! I record every episode on Saturday mornings and we bought some DVD’s. My 3 year old tells me when he is Cross, upset, and he has learned his colors and is speaking more clearly thanks to us reading him Thomas books! He also loves Cars, but trains are his obsession. We have bought him almost every Thomas train known to be out there, and he loves them so much! I don’t think that we will be getting rid of them anytime soon. I am posting a link to this post on my blog!


Michele January 18, 2011 at 8:48 pm

interesting…. and I agree. as a parent who said my kids would *never* watch TV, and now my tivo has more Little Einsteins than Oprah episodes… well, tv today is much different than what I watched as a kid. My kids have learned a lot from some of these show, so I feel less guilty!


Nike@ChooseToThrive February 11, 2011 at 1:29 am

Let me add more praise for Thomas …
My non-verbal, autistic son learned to speak watching Thomas the Tank Engine videos. We realized that spoken language varied too much for him to assimilate, but watching the videos over and over helped him first parrot, and then use the words being spoken. Later, the structure of the episodes helped my son memorize and then recognize body language and emotions in others. Thomas videos were wonderful, free therapy for our son. And for my five other typically developing children who would watch the videos with him, all of them knew their numbers to 10 and colors by age 3 because of the train characters and their respective numbering. Peep, peep for Thomas!


Anonymous April 20, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Thomas is entertaining and I believed it was a good show for my 2 year old son to watch; however, Thomas never suffers consequences for his actions, so Thomas shows/DVDs are banned. Only Thomas toys and books!


Anonymous September 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm

This post is fantastic but Thomas is sooo boring!


Anonymous September 4, 2011 at 2:06 pm

And, I forgot to say, I try to push my 3yo away from Thomas towards Pocoyo, that at least is more enjoyable!


Anonymous July 7, 2012 at 9:59 pm

I have always worried about why the trains are “cross” with each other so often


Kelly August 15, 2012 at 8:06 am

I love this post. I am a strong believer of emotional coaching but I’ve always had a hard time explaining it in a nutshell to friends and family. I’m so glad I now have something to refer people to. Also, my soon to be three year old son is obsessed with Thomas, and I did the same thing you did- trying to get him to watch Sesame Street;)I knew Thomas was good for something lol. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.


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