November 11, 2008

Emotionally intelligent parenting Part 1

To take my mind off the elections last month I decided to read my books on emotional intelligence. I had seen Daniel Goleman's TED Talk on compassion and found it really inspiring. I remembered B talking about "emotional intelligence" being a new buzz phrase in the business world. Managers needed to have emotional intelligence, employees needed to be emotionally intelligent to succeed. I seem to recall him thinking it was b.s. But when Daniel Goleman talked about it, it wasn't about getting ahead in your career. It was about being a better person. It's about having empathy. I knew I walked around with blinders on much of the time, often in too much of a hurry to see what was going on around me. I don't feel like I'm not a caring person, I just get wrapped up in my own mind. Some of that has been changing over the last couple of years but I realized I needed to do more.

The books I have are: Emotionally Intelligent Parenting by Elias, Tobias, and Friedlander, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Emotional Alchemy by Tara Bennett-Goleman, and Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Now of course I did not read them all because there was no way I could take my mind off of the election. I did read the Gottman book though and found it interesting, but also upsetting at the same time. I appear to know how to be emotionally intelligent but I often fail to do so.

According to Gottman, there are four parenting styles: Dismissive, Disapproving, Laissez-Faire, and Emotion Coach. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I fit pretty well into the first two. Not all of the time of course, but certainly when I am under stress or agitated. There is a quiz in the book to try to determine which sort of parenting style you fit. I scored highest on Emotion Coach but my scores for Dismissive and Disapproving when added together were only slightly lower than Emotion Coach. I took this to mean that only half the time I was getting it right. I also realized that I am more dismissive with Robotson and disapproving of the girls.

From Talaris: Parenting Styles

Dismissive parents

"...often view their own emotions as voluntary, as something they choose to feel. These parents then view their child's emotions in the same light. When a child experiences a negative emotion, the solution seems simple: the child should simply decide to have a more positive emotion. In addition, emotion-dismissing adults tend to think of negative emotions as toxic, as if these feelings should be avoided. If a child experiences a negative emotion, they will do anything to move the child out of the negative emotional state, including distraction, tickling, eating, and so on.

Such parents are not insensitive to their children’s emotions. They see them happening and want to be helpful and protective, but they are not sure what to do. Because they are uncomfortable with their own emotions, they remain uncomfortable with their child's feelings. For them, dismissing the emotion, minimizing it by saying “it’s not that bad” or distracting the child with something new, may seem like the best option."

Disapproving parents

"...basically view emotions as a matter of choice. In this view, if children feel a certain way, it's because they want to feel that way. And if emotions are seen as negative, the obvious solution is to make children stop wanting to feel that way.

The Disapproving Parenting Style doesn't just dismiss emotions, or leave them alone without guidance. It actively attempts to suppress them. Those who practice this style are openly critical of their children's feelings. When asked to describe children's emotional experiences, they seem to lack some basic connection or empathy. It's not that they're bad parents, and it's not that they lack love and support and concern for their children. Rather, these adults subscribe to a basic set of beliefs that are the wrong way to look at emotions"
You can see why it's a little embarrassing to admit to being this sort of parent. I certainly never would have thought I was until I took the quizzes and paid more attention to how I was responding to the kids. I do feel like the book describes the styles a little better than this particular website. Some examples of the type of things I might do are:

-Think (and sometimes say) that their lives are not that tough. Since I know that things could be so much worse, and they don't seem to appreciate it, then their reactions are way over the top. (Dismissive)

-Worry a lot about how any emotional outburst they have will prove what a bad parent I am (Dismissive)

-Try to get them to just stop, right now (for any number of reasons that parents want their kids to stop being emotional) (Dismissive)

-I might punish them for being (in my opinion) overly emotional (Disapproving)

-Have power struggles because I worried that I was being manipulated (Disapproving)

-Worry that the kids weren't "normal" because of their emotions (Disapproving)

The good news of course is that I recognize the need for a change and I have started to implement it. When I do take the time to acknowledge their emotions and help name them, the differences are amazing. I have changed dozens of typical scenarios in our house in just the past two weeks. I am loving it but there is no doubt it is much harder. It's especially difficult when everything happens at once. I don't know who to try to help first but I am starting to realize that I should probably focus on me first. If I don't label and deal with my emotion, how can I do it with the kids? Another issue is trying to help B understand how to handle these situations since he hasn't read the book yet. It's a lot harder to calm things down when we've given the inappropriate response first and then are trying to fix two things. B and I also need to be better with each other. We've gotten into bad habits in our relationship that need to be corrected not only for us, but for the kids.

In Part 2 I'm thinking about why I have such a hard time recognizing the emotions and working through them in myself. Then I have some examples of how I would have handled a situation before and what I am doing now. Also, how making these changes feels and where I am still lacking.


  1. Sounds like an interesting book. I've written a bit before on emotional intelligence and have been looking for a good book to read about it.

  2. I much prefer this book to Emotionally Intelligent Parenting by Elias, Tobias, and Friedlander. At least so far. I am not done yet, but so far the book doesn't fit well enough with what I believe about attachment and unconditional parenting. I think I read on your blog you like Alfie Kohn too?

    I'm trying to give it a fair shot, but Gottman is definitely my favorite so far. I also need to read Daniel Goleman's book that sparked my interest, since I never did.

  3. You might want to check out the Love and Logic parenting method. There are some very similar things to what you spoke of, plus more. I really like it and have used it for many years.