Every parent should read this book. Parents of toddlers, parents of teenagers. There are so many things in this book that can help parents build trusting, communicative relationships with their children, and establish methods to help a child become "emotionally intelligent." The beginning of the book talks about how the emotional intelligence of a child is a far greater predictor of success (school performance, education, career opportunities, better peer relationships) in life than a child's mental intelligence, or IQ. It took a little while for me to be convinced that the strategies in this book would be effective, but now I'm trying to use them every day in my parenting.
Gottman presents five key steps to "Emotion Coaching," which help children understand and regulate their emotions. The five key steps are these:
1. Be aware of the child's emotion
2. Recognize the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
3. Listen empathetically and validate the child's feelings
4. Help the child verbally label emotions
5. Set limits while you help the child problem-solve
Step number four I found especially enlightening as the book talked about how the act of labeling emotions can have a soothing effect on the nervous system: "talking about an emotion as you're experiencing it engages the left lobe of the brain, which is the center of language and logic." This helps the child calm down. Children rarely understand their feelings or can adequately express why they're having those feelings, so they need a parent to help them label their emotions.
Another important thing I learned from this book is when to ignore "Parental Agenda." Gottman gives this example:
Mom: "What's the matter, sweetheart You look kind of sad."
Andrew: "I just wish I had a nicer sister."
Mom: "Well, are you nice to her"
"Imagine now how Andrew must have felt about this question. Here was Mom, appearing to be interested in how he was feeling. But as soon as he opens up, she responds with criticism. Granted, it's well-intentioned, mild criticism, but it's criticism nonetheless."
The mom in this situation should have first responded empathetically; because she was critical, her son will probably not continue to share his feelings with her.
Gottman cites Haim Ginott's principle: All feelings are permissible; not all behavior is permissible. "The goal of Emotion Coaching is to explore and understand emotions, not to suppress them." He also talks about how giving children choices helps them to build self-esteem.
Here's some more from the book, in case you're intrigued:
"It is said that in Chinese the ideogram representing "opportunity" is encompassed in the ideogram for "crisis." Nowhere is the linking of these two concepts more apt than in our role as parents. Whether the crisis is a broken balloon, a failing math grade, or the betrayal of a friend, such negative experiences can serve as superb opportunities to empathize, to build intimacy with our children, and to teach them ways to handle their feelings.
"For many parents, recognizing children's negative emotions as opportunities for such bonding and teaching comes as a relief, a liberation, a great "ah-ha." We can look at our children's anger as something other than a challenge to our authority. Kids' fears are no longer evidence of our incompetence as parents. And their sadness doesn't have to represent just "one more blasted thing I'm going to have to fix today."
"To reiterate an idea offered by one Emotion-Coaching father in our studies, a child needs his parent most when he is sad or angry or afraid. The ability to help soothe an upset child can be what makes us "feel most like parents." By acknowledging our children's emotions, we are helping them learn skills for soothing themselves, skills that will serve them well for a lifetime.
"While some parents try to ignore children's negative feelings in the hope that they will go away, emotions rarely work that way. Instead, negative feelings dissipate when children can talk about their emotions, label them, and feel understood. It makes sense, therefore, to acknowledge low levels of emotion early on before they escalate into full-blown crises. If your five-year-old seems nervous about an upcoming trip to the dentist, it's better to explore that fear the day before than to wait until the child is in the dentist chair, throwing a full-blown tantrum. If your twelve-year-old feels envious because his best friend got the position he coveted on the baseball team, it's better to help him talk over those feelings with you than to let them boil over in a row between the two buddies next week.
"Addressing feelings that are low in intensity before they escalate also gives families a chance to practice listening and problem-solving skills while the stakes are small. If you express interest and concern over your child's broken toy or a minor scrape, these experiences are building blocks. Your child learns that you are his ally and the two of you figure out how to collaborate. Then if a big crisis occurs, you are prepared to face it together."
Anyway, I am sold. Every parent should read this book.