In Monday’s blog posting, we provided parents of newborns (and expecting parents!) with some tricks to rid yourselves of stress in your own relationship and in your relationship with your child. In today’s post, we’d like to offer you some exciting conclusions reached by Dr. John Gottman in his research on families with older children, in hopes that it will keep that stress away beyond babyhood. 

The mountain of parenting studies piled up by researchers over the years has created the idea that any conflict between you and your partner must be entirely hidden from your kids. Imagine putting such an idea into practice. It would be totally impossible! Luckily, this idea is not only completely impractical, but also utterly wrong.

Conflict is a natural part of any intimate relationship. Dr. Gottman’s research on this subject may come as a welcome relief. He has discovered that as children grow up, their ability to cope with emotions is strengthened not by conflict avoidance between their parents, but rather by the example that you and your partner can set in your healthy acknowledgement of negative emotions. The efforts that you make to work through inevitable differences with your partner in a loving and accepting way will accomplish two things – strengthening your relationship with one another and with your child. In the most formative years of your kids’ lives, exposing them to emotionally intelligent styles of conflict resolution is scientifically proven to do wonders for their future success. Once formed, it seems that the habits your children pick up from you stick. It’s like learning to ride a bike – through an argument. Which, as we all know, can be a pretty useful skill.

Remarkably, this phenomenon also works in the opposite direction. Dr. Gottman’s research on the effects of healthy parenting has shown that an awareness of your own emotions and those of your children dramatically increases a couple’s connection. Feelings of companionship, affection, fondness, admiration, and general happiness about their marriage were shown to increase for couples who taught their children to work out areas of conflict in a healthy way. These couples also showed less of a tendency to treat each other with belligerence, contempt, stonewalling, and other chaos-inducing behaviors. As those of you with children know, chaos is to be avoided at all times! There is always enough chaos.

If you and your partner become Emotion Coaches, Dr. Gottman’s term for couples who engage in healthy methods of problem solving, you stand to benefit enormously both in your own relationship and in your relationships to your children. Watching their parents treat each other with respect and understanding teaches children essential life-skills applicable constantly throughout their lives. From the sandbox to the classroom, they will have learned crucial skills in dealing with their own emotions and those of others in a healthy way.

Cultivate an empathetic, validating, and affectionate environment in your home, and increase not only your children’s trust and awareness of their emotions but the connection between you and your mate. In Friday’s post, look forward to some simple exercises that will help you and your mate to become better Emotion Coaches. Raising children can be the most incredible experience of your life, and the number of lessons you teach your kids may be surpassed only by those that they unexpectedly teach you. Looking forward to keeping your life full of only the best kinds of surprises in our next blog post! 

For further information on Emotion Coaching and emotional intelligence, check out Dr. Gottman’s “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” and also be sure to check out our YouTube channel:

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Parenting: As Your Kids Grows Up

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.