By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet
Dr. John Gottman has identified, in his book “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” one of the most important things that we can do as parents to help our “children to be moral and responsible people who contribute to society, who have the strength to make their own choices in life, who enjoy the accomplishments of their own talents, who enjoy life and the pleasures it can offer, who have good relationships with friends and successful marriages, and who themselves become good parents.” (16) One of the most important things that we can do as parents toward the accomplishment of these goals is to coach our children emotionally.
Emotional intelligence is being smart about how other people are feeling, about how we are feeling, and being informed about the impact of these feelings on the world around us. Being emotionally intelligent will help you to calm yourself down when you get upset. Emotionally intelligent people have higher paying jobs, more job security, less legal trouble, better health, a happier family life, are better parents, have better concentration, and are better at understanding other people and what motivates them. Emotionally intelligent people have better friendships, they do better in school, and they show greater wisdom in the decisions that they make about relationships during their lives.
Dr. Gottman tells us that the “path to becoming a better parent begins with self-examination.” (42) There are several, identifiable approaches to parenting. Some of these approaches produce better results than others. Our goal as parents should always be to use only the best tools and parenting styles possible on a daily basis.
Dr. Gottman identifies 4 parenting styles, which are: Dismissing, Disapproving, Laissez-faire, and (The best one) Emotional Coaching. No parent uses only one of these styles all of the time. We each use some of each style at different times. However, when we share principles that can help us improve our parenting, it becomes necessary to put labels on behaviors as a means of discussing them. Yet, we should be reluctant to put these style labels on people as if they are completely and permanently one style or another.
Dr. Gottman teaches us that parents who use the Dismissive parenting style, project their own fear of being “out of control” emotionally on their children by making them feel like their emotions are not important or are not appropriate. Dismissive parents fail to realize the importance of teaching their children that they can trust their own heart. (55)
Disapproving parents take this approach one step further by punishing their children when they show anger or sadness. (57) Children who are raised by parents who use Dismissive or Disapproving styles have a hard time trusting their own judgment, learning to regulate their emotions and solve problems, being able to concentrate, and learning and get along with their peers. (60)
Laissez-Faire parents are on the right track at the beginning, in that they accept their children’s emotions and allow their children to freely express their feelings. Unfortunately Laissez-Faire parents often over-react to the strict policy that was in place within their family of origin, where they were not allowed to express “dangerous” negative emotions. Laissez-Faire parents also miss opportunities to help their children learn from their emotional experiences because these parents set few limits on behavior. The children of Laissez-Faire parents, lack an awareness of how to calm
themselves or escape from painful emotions. (61)
Emotional coaching is the parenting style that helps children learn the most and develop the skills needed to form close and enduring emotional bonds in the future.
Empathy is at the heart of emotional coaching. We begin the life-long process of being a good emotional coach by becoming aware of our own feelings, and giving ourselves permission to express those feelings. The next thing we can do as parents, is to try to put ourselves in our children’s shoes and try to understand what they are feeling and why. We should help our children to identify and label the emotions that they are experiencing. As we demonstrate to our children that we understand and respect the emotions that they are feeling we will be in a good position to be trusted by them. As our children trust that we will not mock or dismiss their feelings, as then realize that they will not be punished for feeling sad or angry, we can talk with them about constructive ways to manage their feelings and set firm limits on behavior that will be respected and followed by our children. Emotional coaching is important because it builds close and intimate bonds of emotional connection and closeness between parents and their children. Emotional coaching helps children to learn the skills that they will need to solve problems in their own lives and to be successful parents and members of society. (67)
Dr. Gottman teaches us that, “When children feel emotionally connected to their parents and the parents use this bond to help kids regulate their feelings and solve problems, good things happen.” (68)
Dismissing and disapproving parents miss the fact that children who witness even heated arguments between their parents which arguments end with compromise, actually learn from and are benefited by witnessing such arguments. (66)
We need to make sure that our children know that we respect them. Our children need to know that we will tell them the truth if we expect them to trust us. Our children need to know that we care about the things that matter the most to them. Reading together is an excellent way for us to find opportunities to emotionally coach our children so that they can win in life. (123)
Emotional coaching does not solve every problem and should not be used when others can hear the sensitive issues that need to be discussed with your child. During times of extreme anger or stress a parent may need to retreat and cool off. (130) If a child has broken a major rule or is trying to manipulate you with your feelings, emotional coaching should be saved for some other time.
Dr. Gottman states that, “When a Mother and Father show hostility and contempt for one another their children suffer.” (138) Divorce can make children twice as likely to experience problems such as dropping out of High School. (144) Parents need to talk with their children about the conflict in their home. (159) Following a divorce, parents need to stay in close contact emotionally for their children. (161)
Fathers are valuable resources for their children in giving them emotional support and guidance. (165) Girls in particular, benefit from a close relationship with their father. “They are less likely to become sexually promiscuous” and are ,”more likely to develop healthy relationships with men when they become adults.” (166)
Parents should stay connected with their children at every stage of their lives. Dads need to help daily in the emotional development and physical care of their children. (177) When children are young we need to help them find comfort for their fears. (204) When our children become teenagers they need our guidance as they seek to establish a positive identity and become part of a positive peer group. (212)
As I reflect on the message shared by Dr. Gottman I am determined to present a parent education work shop. Where I can share some of my own experiences in applying the messages contained in this wonderful book.
I recently taught a class, as a substitute teacher, at an Elementary School here in Davis County. As I was teaching the class, the voice of a school administrator came over the intercom announcing that there was a computer virus on the network at the school and that we would need to shut down all of the computers. After shutting down the computers I continued teaching. I noticed that four of the students, in this second grade classroom, had worried expressions on their faces. These students had been talking to each other while I was shutting down the computers. I did not hear their conversation, and so I asked them what they were feeling. These students turned to one of the girls, their spokesperson, who then asked, “Can computer viruses spread to people?”
Is it any wonder, in a day where swine flu has captured so much attention and required so much activity, that these children would be concerned that their lives may be in jeopardy? I took their concern and worried feelings seriously and explained to them that they were not in any danger. Computer viruses cannot spread to people. The students were relieved to know that they were safe and we continued with the lesson.
Children experience legitimate fears and worries that should not be trivialized or mocked by adults. When we are sensitive to the feelings and emotions of children and help guide them in learning how to regulate their emotions, we have a great influence for good in their lives. Dr. Gottman reminds us in his book that children are “facing life from a much fresher, less experienced, more vulnerable perspective.” (93) When children experience strong emotions for the first time, such as in the case of losing a beloved pet to the confusing state of death, children may feel extremely overwhelmed by such experiences. (92)
I have observed that some children experience fears that are similar to what I remember experiencing during the cold war. As a child, I worried sometimes that a nuclear missile would explode nearby and that I would need to quickly run for cover in order to avoid dying. Children today seem almost as worried about global warming as children of my generation were about the atomic bomb. I have witnessed children who went through their homes turning off all of the lights because they are afraid that the earth will be uninhabitable in a few weeks if the lights are left on too long. The irony here, is that children today may be afraid of both the dark AND the light. We need to be sensitive to the feelings that children experience, to listen carefully, and in some cases, to use our imagination, if we are to be effective in consoling and bringing comfort to the fears that exist in the minds of our children. Dr. Gottman encourages us in his wonderful book to listen carefully as our children play with their toys for hints about the emotions that our children are feeling. (92)
Perception is so important to the emotions that we feel at any given moment. Our perception of reality controls our emotions. As an example, one morning my six-year-old-son was preparing to go to elementary school, as he was zipping up his school
backpack his hand slipped and he hit himself in the face, knocking out one of his teeth. At this point in the story you may have gasped or said in your mind, “Ouch! What a horrible event!”
The other part of this story, the part that changes our perception of the events and thus our emotions, is that the tooth which he knocked out had been very loose for several weeks and each time we tried to pull it out it hurt my son very much. Because of these repeated experiences, my son would no longer allow anyone to touch his tooth. In other words, everyone in the family was very happy that his tooth had been knocked out and nobody was happier about it than my son. The only way that we can monitor and detect our children’s perceptions of themselves and the world around them is by listening very carefully and with empathy.
One semester a student visited a computer lab and began to study. As the student logged on to the computer the student waited and waited and waited for the computer to log on. The student began to think that this computer was not working right but then it finally logged on.
The student typed up the assignment and when it came time to print the paper, once again it took a very long time to send the work to the printer. Throughout the semester the student had the same problem every time he went to the computer lab. At the end of the semester, the student approached the computer lab assistant for the first time and said, “This is the worst computer lab in the world and I have had enough!” I will leave now and never come back to this dysfunctional computer lab!”
The lab assistant asked the student which computers had been tried by the student in that lab during the semester. The student responded that he had used the same computer, the one next to the printer, during the entire semester. The lab assistant kindly explained, “The computer by the printer is the least effective machine in the lab, it has several problems that are not possible to repair. He pointed out to the student that there are no assigned computers in the lab. The lab assistant said, “If you try some different computers you will have a completely different experience in this lab. Making this adjustment will change your view of this lab and help you to really come to love this computer lab deeply for perhaps the first time. If you make this change, I promise that you will have a wonderful experience in this computer lab from this day forward.”
The proceeding story illustrates something important if we consider the computer lab to represent a marriage or a family relationship. Each computer is a different communication tool or approach to loving another person. The computer lab assistant could symbolize a parent, mentor, clergyman, or marriage and family councilor. Sometimes we use the same patterns because they are familiar to us or because that is the way our parents did things. Though these familiar tools can be very frustrating and unproductive, we know they have worked to some degree in the past and so sometimes we continue to use what is familiar. Remember, however, there are no assigned computers in the University computer lab. There are also no assigned communication patterns or approaches to loving our spouse and children, except the patterns we
assign to ourselves through ignorance, impatience and thoughtlessness. Don’t stop trying until you find an approach to loving the most important people in your life that works and helps you to find joy in the marriage and family that you are already in. We know that some computer labs have dangerous and faulty wiring and that sometimes none of the computers are going to work in that lab. However, for the most part our experience in the computer lab is a matter of using the most effective computers or in other words, parenting styles, to accomplish our work of parenting healthy and happy children who love and respect us. We just need to take the time and have the courage to try a few different computers.
In his book “Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child,” Dr. Gottman has provided us with excellent tools that we can use to raise healthy and productive children who can have happy marriages and become effective parents. Effective parents are desperately needed in order to raise future generations in an emotionally intelligent environment.