Book Review: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman Ph.D. and Joan DeClaire is a self-help book for parents who want to learn how to better respond to their children’s emotions. The book is focused on the concept of emotional intelligence, “a kind of IQ that is about people and the world of feelings.” In his preface, John Gottman describes results from his research which have identified a myriad of benefits children with good emotional intelligence experience, including 1) the ability to calm oneself down when upset, 2) better focus and attention, 3) greater ease relating to others, 4) improved ability to deal with difficult social situations such as getting teased, and 5) better quality friendships, among other things. The aim of this book, then, is to help parents learn what they can do to foster greater emotional intelligence in their children. Here’s a rundown of some of my thoughts about the book:

  1. First off, I think this is a fantastic book. Reading it really reminded me what I should be doing as a parent when it comes to my children’s emotions (Yes, therapists forget too!). And I’m sure it will have the same impact on other parents as well.
  2. The authors begin by identifying 4 different parenting patterns that parents fall into when responding to their children’s emotions. The first three are not-so-great and the fourth is what we should all be striving for.
    1. Disapproving Parents are actively critical of their children when they display negative emotions and often reprimand and punish their children for having them.
    2. Dismissing Parents aren’t as actively hostile towards displays of negative emotions but they still disregard, ignore, or trivialize their children’s negative emotions.
    3. Laissez-Faire Parents are able to accept their children’s negative emotions and show empathy towards their children, but they are unable to provide their children with guidance as to what they should be doing with their emotions, and they are unable to set limits on their children’s behavior when they are upset.
    4. Emotion Coaches, then, are those parents who are doing things to foster emotional intelligence in their children. They don’t reject or ignore their children when they are experiencing negative emotions. They accept these emotions as a fact of life. And they capitalize on those times when their children are feeling hurt, sad, angry or scared to teach important life lessons and build closer relationships with their children.
  3. The book goes on to outline the process of Emotion Coaching, which includes:
    1. Becoming aware of your child’s emotions
    2. Recognizing emotional moments as opportunities for intimacy and teaching
    3. Listening empathically and validating your child’s feelings
    4. Helping your child find words to label the emotion s/he is having
    5. Setting limits on your child’s behavior, while exploring strategies to solve the problem at hand
  4. Later chapters include:
    • Some very good questionnaires to help parents identify their parenting styles with detailed descriptions of the different parenting styles
    • Guidance on how to implement the 5 steps of emotion coaching
    • An emotional awareness questionnaire
    • Tips on how to problem solve emotional dilemnas
    • A long list of emotion coaching strategies full of creative exercises you can practice with your child
    • An exploration of how to protect children from the negative effects of marital conflict and divorce
    • A chapter for fathers on how to become more involved in children’s emotional lives
    • A chapter on how to emotion coach across the different stages of childhood and adolescence

Again, I would recommend this book for anyone (therapist or parent) looking for a solid approach to fostering emotional intelligence in children (and in ourselves). Emotions are such an important and confusing part of life for children, and it’s easy as adults to forget that. Children really do need daily guidance in this area, and the consequences of not providing them with that guidance can be quite significant. If you’re interested in reading more, the book is available on Amazon. Happy reading!