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Gottman Parenting Research

Research on emotion coaching, on the impact of marital discord, and the transition to parenthood are all elements of Dr. Gottman’s parenting research agenda. At the heart of these projects are the emotional lives of children and the emotional communication between parents and their children. As Dr. Gottman and his colleagues studied parents and children over time, they made a number of observations and discoveries about the powerful impact that emotional processes can have on children and their parents.

“Much of today’s popular advice to parents ignores emotion,” says Dr. Gottman. “Instead it relies on child-rearing theories that address children’s misbehavior, but disregards the feelings that underlie that misbehavior. The ultimate goal of raising children should not be simply to have an obedient and compliant child. Most parents hope for much more for their children.”

Dr. Gottman’s research also discovered that love by itself wasn’t enough. “We found that concerned, warm, and involved parents often had attitudes toward their and their children’s emotions that got in the way … when the child was sad or afraid or angry,” he writes. “The secret to being an emotionally intelligent parent lay in how parents interacted with their children when emotions ran hot.”

Visit our new Emotion Coaching Video Series here

The researchers ultimately determined that successful parents tended to do five very simple things with their children when they were emotional. Gottman calls these five elements “Emotion Coaching.” He discovered that children who had “Emotion Coaches” for parents were on an entirely different, more positive developmental trajectory than the children of other parents.

Dr. Gottman and other researchers also observed that children benefit the most when parents themselves have a strong relationship. “In families where the parents aren’t living with each other or are not going to stay married, the parents can best help their children by minimizing their children’s exposure to destructive conflict. High levels of parental conflict create emotional distress in children and decrease effective parenting skills.”

Dr. Gottman’s emphasis on the emotional bond between parent and child emerged from longitudinal research that included emotional content in all family relationships. To our knowledge, his is the first research to confirm the work of the brilliant children’s clinician, psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott.

For more information on Dr. Gottman’s research on parents and children, see our new Emotion Coaching Video Series and also the book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

Marital Discord and Its Impact on Children

Dr. Gottman’s laboratory–designed to study the psychophysiology of emotion and marital and parent-child interactions–has been used to study the correlation between marital discord, parent-child interaction, and child outcomes. In studies examining parent-child interactions, child’s emotional expressions, at-home peer interaction, and self-report of marital distress, a number of negative consequences of marital discord on child outcomes were demonstrated. Marital discord can influence children indirectly by decreasing the effectiveness of the parents’ monitoring, emotion coaching, and other parenting skills. And it can influence children by creating emotional distress on the children. This research, conducted with Lynn Fainsilber Katz, also demonstrated that children of maritally distressed couples show an amazing strength and resilience. Ongoing research continues to examine how marital discord affects children, but also seeks to understand how some children remain resiliant despite the stresses and strains of an emotionally unstable home.

More on Gottman parenting research

Our research-based Bringing Baby Home Program prepares couples for life with baby and helps them be the best parenting team possible. In a relaxed and supportive environment, parents learn to strengthen their relationship and foster baby’s development during this challenging time. Read about the BBH research here

Read More about Emotionally Intelligent Children

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