With school starting up again, we would like to turn our attention to the relationship between parent and child. As Dr. Gottman explains in Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, “good parenting involves emotion.” Dating back to the 1990s, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and ability to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships. For parents, this quality of “emotional intelligence” means being aware of your child’s feelings, and being able to empathize, soothe, and guide them.
When it comes to raising children, what parental behaviors make the difference? As a research-psychologist studying parent-child interactions, Dr. Gottman has spent much of the past forty years looking for the answer to this question. Working with research teams at the University of Illinois and the University of Washington, his studies involved lengthy interviews with parents, talking about their marriages, their reactions to their children’s emotional experiences, and their own awareness of the role emotion plays in their lives.
The results tell a simple, yet compelling story. We have found that most parents fall into one of two broad categories: those who give their children guidance about the world of emotion and those who don’t. We call parents who get involved with their children’s feelings “Emotion Coaches.”
We have identified four types of parents and the effects of this parenting style on their children:
The Dismissing Parent
- Treats child’s feelings as unimportant, trivial
- Disengages from or ignores the child’s feelings
- Wants the child’s negative emotions to disappear quickly
- Sees the child’s emotions as a demand to fix things
- Minimizes the child’s feelings, downplaying the events that led to the emotion
- Does not problem-solve with the child, believes that the passage of time will resolve most problems
Effects of this style on children: They learn that their feelings are wrong, inappropriate, not valid. They may learn that there is something inherently wrong with them because of the way they feel. They may have difficulty regulating their own emotions.
The Disapproving Parent
- Displays many of the Dismissing Parent’s behaviors, but in a more negative way
- Judges and criticizes the child’s emotional expression
- Emphasizes conformity to good standards of behavior
- Believes negative emotions need to be controlled
- Believes emotions make people weak; children must be emotionally tough for survival
- Believes negative emotions are unproductive, a waste of time
Effects of this style on children: Same as the Disapproving style.
The Laissez-Faire Parent
- Freely accepts all emotional expression from the child
- Offers little guidance on behavior
- Does not set limits
- Believes there is little you can do about negative emotions other than ride them out
- Does not help child solve problems
- Believes that managing negative emotions is a matter of hydraulics, release the emotion and the work is done
Effects of this style on children: They don’t learn to regulate their emotions. They have trouble concentrating, forming friendships, and getting along with other children.
The Emotion Coach
- Values the child’s negative emotions as an opportunity for intimacy
- Is aware of and values her or her own emotions
- Sees the world of negative emotions as an important arena for parenting
- Does not poke fun at or make light of the child’s negative feelings
- Does not say how the child should feel
- Uses emotional moments as a time to listen to the child, empathize with soothing words and affection, help the child label the emotion he or she is feeling, offer guidance on regulating emotions, set limits and teach acceptable expression of emotions, and teach problem-solving skills
Effects of this style on children: They learn to trust their feelings, regulate their own emotions, and solve problems. They have a high self-esteem, learn well, and get alone well with others.
The concept of Emotion Coaching is a simple one that’s rooted in our deepest feelings of love and empathy for our children. Unfortunately, however, Emotion Coaching doesn’t come naturally to all parents. Rather, Emotion Coaching is an art that requires emotional awareness and a specific set of listening and problem-solving behaviors – behaviors Dr. Gottman and his colleagues identified and analyzed in their observation of healthy, well-functioning families. The path to becoming a better parent, like almost every road to personal growth, begins with self-examination. Curious about which style of parent you are? Take our quiz here!
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