In the journey of life, emotions make great allies but terrible enemies. If we manage our emotions, they can enrich and enlarge our experience. If our emotions are allowed to be tyrants, they will leave us shipwrecked on a stormy sea.
Yet most of us never get training for managing emotions. In fact, according to John Gottman, a relationship researcher famous for his work on marriage, most of our emotional education comes from parents who are reacting out of their own untutored emotions. When children show emotional distress most parents dismiss, disapprove, or wilt. None of those options is helpful.
Gottman (1997) recommends a fourth option, one that leads to emotional wellness, in his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. He calls it emotion coaching. He offers five sensible steps:
1. Be aware of the child’s emotion.
2. Recognize emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching.
3. Listen empathetically and validate the child’s feelings.
4. Help the child label the emotion.
5. Set limits while helping the child problem-solve. (See p.75).
While I believe that Haim Ginott’s newly revised Between Parent and Child is the single best book for parents, Gottman’s book is a valuable adjunct. It helps parents understand why Ginott’s method is so important and so effective. While Ginott provides the flesh including stories and pointers, Gottman provides the skeleton with science and rationale.
Incidentally, Gottman’s book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, is dedicated to the work and memory of Dr. Haim Ginott. Gottman believes that his research has provided “the first quantifiable evidence to suggest that Ginott’s ideas were essentially correct. Empathy not only matters; it is the foundation of effective parenting” (p.35).
Gottman’s story about his daughter Moriah is a classic. He shows clearly how parents can apply emotional first aid to our children’s distress. The best parenting sets limits on behavior but it always faces emotions with compassion and empathy.
A Children’s Book for Emotional Education
There is a third book that is especially good for helping children develop emotional literacy. It is a children’s book that can spark great discussions between adults and children about their experiences of emotion. Almost two years ago I reviewed and recommended What Makes Me Happy? It is a fine companion to the recommended parenting books.
If you are interested in helping your children turn their emotions into energizing allies, I recommend that you get all three books. Our emotions can be our friends.
Catherine and Laurence Anholt (1994). What makes me happy? Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Haim Ginott, Alice Ginott, & H. Wallace Goddard (2003). Between parent and child. New York: Three Rivers Press.
John Gottman (1997). Raising an emotionally intelligent child. New York: Simon & Schuster.