Here's a great book by John Gottman called The Heart of Parenting: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. I think the title and subtitle are reversed in the most recent edition. I have long respected Gottman's marriage research, and used his books when doing marriage counseling with couples years ago. He talks a lot about how couples in trouble often have difficulty dealing with emotions, and fall into negative behaviors like criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. And so I was excited to see him studying and writing about parenting issues. If we want our children to become emotionally intelligent adults, what can we do to encourage that?
Life with children is full of emotion! Most of us deal well with our children's more positive emotions. But what about when our children are anxious, sad, or angry? Gottman describes three approaches parents often take: emotion-dismissing, emotion-disapproving, and laissez-faire. The danger of the first two approaches is that children may come to think their emotions are wrong, inappropriate, or invalid, and therefore not learn how to regulate their emotions well. As they say, "You can bury your emotions, but you bury them alive." Likewise with the laissez-faire approach, children aren't given much guidance in how to regulate their emotions. We don't want to raise children who punch walls when they're angry, and say whatever comes to their minds regardless of who it hurts.
Personally, I've fallen into all three of these approaches, especially when my own emotions are running high. But Gottman has found that children do best when their parents take an emotion-coaching approach. From his website:
What are the five elements of emotion coaching?
*Be aware of a child's emotions
*Recognize emotional expression as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
*Listen empathetically and validate a child's feelings
*Label emotions in words a child can understand
*Help a child come up with an appropriate way to solve a problem or deal with an upsetting issue or situation
It's not always easy to do, but I think it's worth the effort, since that's how I hope my children will deal with their emotions someday when they are employees, spouses, and parents themselves. The book goes into much greater detail, and also has helpful chapters on the father's crucial role, age-specific guidance, and how marriage and divorce influence a child's emotional health.
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