The Best (Parenting) Book I’ve Ever Read

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting
by John Gottman, Ph.D.

As we are aware, I find certain aspects of parenting very challenging.

One of those aspects is dealing with my children’s emotions. At the same time, I recognize that they have to be allowed to feel what they are feeling. It’s what to do after that that I’m not sure about.

I don’t remember where I came across mention of this book. Dan and I had read some of Gottman‘s relationship books; Dan uses them in therapy. When I saw he had written a parenting book, I decided I needed to look into it.

Gottman starts out with his rationale for Emotion Coaching, helps you assess your current parenting style (Dismissing, Disapproving, or Laissez Faire), and then outlines techniques for Emotion Coaching. Following these five steps helps you give your child the tools to identify his/her emotions, and work through them constructively.

In short, Emotion Coaching consists of:

1. Becoming aware of your child’s emotion.
2. Recognizing the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching.
3. Listening empathetically and validating your child’s feelings. (This is truly as simple as saying, “I understand you are feeling sad.” or “It sounds as if you’re mad.”
4. Help the child find words to label the emotion.
5. Set limits while exploring strategies to solve the problem at hand.

There are chapters about marriage and divorce, as well, and how Emotion coaching can help children deal with conflicts within their parents’ relationships. The last chapter of the book deals with childhood stages, from infancy to adolescence, and how Emotion Coaching can help in each stage.

This may sound very touchy-feely, new agey, but I promise it’s not. You’ve met me right? And it’s not about making your kids happy, or making them behave well, or making them feel good. It’s also not permission to act however they please because of their feelings.

I discovered that I am a Laissez Faire parent, which means that while I recognize my children’s emotions as valid, I have no idea what to do after that. The steps in this book are helping me stop and take the time to listen to my kids (yes, even the 2-and-a-half-year old), identify their feelings, and then help them calm down and problem solve.

I’m still working on it, but I want to try to become an Emotion Coaching parent. The biggest barriers are (for me):

1. Time: Sometimes it’s hard to slow down and listen.
2. Attention: Sometimes, it’s hard to focus on one child for the time needed to identify and validate an emotion.
3. Dealing with high emotions: Sometimes, neither me nor the kids are in a space to slow down and hear each other. That’s when a time out is helpful, just a moment to say, “We’re going to walk away from each other, and then come back to this issue and talk about it.” In the case of the 2-and-a-half-year old, this could require an actual time out for him.

When I have been able to go through the five steps, especially with one of the girls, it has been like defusing a bomb. I can visibly see them relax even when they are frustrated, angry, or sad. Taking a few minutes to say, “Hey, I hear what you are saying. I used to hate when my brother teased me. What can we do about this?”

Honestly, it’s awesome. I feel like I can access the part of me that can most help my kids. According to the book, I’m helping them learn to negotiate their feelings in other relationships and giving them what they need to be successful in expressing themselves. I just feel like I’ve opened a toolbox to help me parent better, something I’m always looking for.

Also, it’s a very judgement-free book and philosophy, which, if you know anything about parenting books, is not the case most of the time. I never got the sense from Gottman that he was saying, “You’re doing it wrong. Do it THIS way.” He just lays out the philosophy for you, outlines benefits, and leaves you to it. Even when he talks about parenting styles such as Dismissing or Disapproving, he’s encouraging rather than condescending.

If you find yourself flummoxed by how to deal with your kids’ emotions, or how to limit their behavior appropriately, this book can be a good guideline to finding your way to a more successful style.