Recently I had the chance to see John Gottman give a speech on “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.” Gottman has long been one of my professional and personal heroes due to his extensive research on marital relationships and parenting. This is not Dr. Laura, Dr. Phil, or John Gray here folks. Gottman’s stuff is based on decades of research. He also doesn’t run these seminars to try to sell his books–not once did he mention them (but I will, because they have made a huge impact on how I approach my marital relationship).
He said that we need to treat our spouses and children like we treat friends and guests. He gave a couple of painfully obvious (and funny) examples of this: if a guest spilled wine on your carpet, you would not tear into him about how clumsy he was and how he needed to be more careful, you would offer him another glass. Or, if she forgot her umbrella, you wouldn’t chase after her yelling about how she is so forgetful, you would say, “Hey, you forgot your umbrella.” In short, we tend to overlook the flaws in our friends, but not our spouses. We need to be courteous and kind with our spouses and children, something we already know how to do with guests. It does not mean we shouldn’t teach our children, just that they have a big sense of dignity and we should treat them respectfully.
The last point I really liked was that there are two types of parents–the first (“dismissing”) will give the child a ton of information, wait until the child does something wrong, and then point out their mistakes. The other type (“Emotion Coaching” – what he recommends) gives the child just a little information, and then waits for the child to do something right, and points it out. Basically, he asserts that “constructive criticism” does not work. According to research (which he sited numerous times for pretty much everything he said, pointing out mistakes tends to increase them.
In short, his “Emotion Coaching” of children is summed up in these steps:
- Notice the child’s emotion.
- Take on the attitude that the emotion is an opportunity for teaching and intimacy.
- Validate their emotion–even when there is misbehavior involved.
- Provide verbal labels for the emotion–it gives the child a sense of control.
- Help them solve their problem, while setting limits. “All wishes and feelings are acceptable, but not all behaviors.”