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The Heart of Parenting: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Written by John Gottman , Ph.D., with Joan DeClaire
Reviewed by Sara Gable, Ph.D., Human Development and Family Studies,
College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia


Gottman's book, The Heart of Parenting, offers valuable guidance and research-based information to adults who parent, care for, and educate children. The book encourages adults to discuss emotions with their children, particularly negative ones, in order to develop better parent-child relationships and promote children's emotional intelligence. Through a technique termed Emotion Coaching, adults can help children understand why emotions happen and how to effectively cope with them. The author states, "…even more than IQ, [one's] emotional awareness and ability to handle feelings will determine [one's] success and happiness in all walks of life…" (p. 20).

The book begins by describing Gottman's research showing that preschoolers who experience Emotion Coaching at home are more likely to have positive peer relations, better physical health, higher academic performance, and fewer behavior problems than children who do not experience parental Emotion Coaching.

Next, Gottman provides parents with concrete information on how to use Emotion Coaching with their children. Effective Emotion Coaching relies on adult listening and patience and follows a sequence of 5 steps:

1) Adult awareness of child emotions;

2) adult recognition of emotions as an opportunity for intimacy and relationship building;

3) adult empathetic listening and validation of child feelings;

4) adult assistance with emotion labeling; and

5) adult limit setting and assistance with problem solving.

The book presents many examples of effective and ineffective Emotion Coaching and stresses its usefulness with children ages 3 years through adolescence.

The basic foundation of Emotional Coaching, Gottman says, is empathy for the child's emotional experience. The first three steps send children the message that their emotions are real and that their adult caregivers want to talk about them. The fourth step, emotion labeling, is crucial because it helps children learn the words to label their feelings, which helps them stay calm and have the ability to talk about their feelings. The last step encourages children to think logically and to engage in problem solving.

Gottman also gives some tips for how to begin using Emotion Coaching and how to use the technique effectively. He recommends leaving your own agenda out, trying to understand what your child's day has been like, and avoiding criticism. Gottman also suggests times when Emotion Coaching is not appropriate (for example, when pressed for time, when privacy is impossible, when child misbehavior is serious, when you are stressed).

Emotion coaching is not only beneficial for children, it can also help adults establish and maintain a satisfying marriage. The book suggests strategies for managing marital conflict and for protecting children from the negative effects of conflict. If parents are experiencing a lot of marital conflict, using Emotion Coaching can help their child cope with the stress that children often experience when their parents fight.

Gottman emphasizes that Emotion Coaching is for both mothers and fathers because his research reveals that the benefits of Emotion Coaching are especially positive when fathers are doing the coaching. Deciding to begin Emotion Coaching requires a father to get in touch with his own feelings, consider the feelings of his spouse or partner, and get in touch emotionally with his children. Although this sounds like a daunting task, when one begins Emotion Coaching, the benefits are likely to be experienced by the whole family.

In summary, the author presents compelling research and practical information that can be applied by all adults who care for children and their families. The individual chapters are well-organized and the author's writes in reader-friendly style. An ever-present theme is one of compassion for parents; the author recognizes that parents genuinely want the best for their children and operate typically out of concern for their child's health and safety. The Heart of Parenting provides techniques that parents can use to "follow their hearts" in a way that fosters their child's emotional development.


Resource: The Heart of Parenting: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, by John Gottman , Ph.D., with Joan DeClaire. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. 1997. 239 pp. $ 22.00.


Last Updated 05/05/2009









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