EQI - Emotional Intelligence - header image

John Gottman

John Gottman seems to be doing some of the better work on children and parents so here are few notes from a book of his and a few links. One thing I like about Gottman is he dedicated his book about the "Heart of Parenting" to Haim Ginott

Notes from The Heart of Parenting: Raising an emotionally intelligent child

Books authored or co-authored by Gottman

Gottman's Website

Core Topics






Conflict Resolution

Emotional Literacy

The Heart of Parenting: Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child, John Gottman

Here are my notes from when I read the book in 1997. Mostly they are quotes from the book, with a few of my own ideas, thoughts and comments sprinkled here and there. If you see "sph" (my initials), it is definitely my comment.

pp= paraphrased

A few selected sections from the full notes below:

Five steps to becoming an "Emotion Coach

Traits of a "Dismissing" Parent

Disapproving Parent

Laissez-Faire Parent

The Emotion Coach

Zebra - A father gives his daughter the gift of understanding


"Much of today's popular advice to parents ignores the world of emotions. Instead, it relies on child-rearing theories that address the children's misbehavior, but disregard the feelings that underlie that misbehavior."

"The ultimate goal of raising children should not be simply to have an obedient and compliant child." p 16

** if you want to label something, label your feelings. (sph)

Love by itself isn't enough. p 16

He decicates the book to Haim Ginott.

When a child is emotional, it is a ideal time for bonding.

Poor emotional coaches:

1. Dismissing parents, who disregard, ignore, or trivialize children's negative emotions (what I would call invalidating parents- sph)

2. Disapproving parents, who are critical of their children's negative emotions.

3. Laissez-faire parents, who accept their children's emotions and empathize with them, but fail to offer guidance or set limits on their children's behavior.

[Also, lazy parents like those who use distraction like bribing, tickling (sph)]

see example on p 23 of the actual book

sph comment - I would say of the three, the first two do much more damage to the child/teen.

Five steps to becoming an "Emotion Coach" p 24

1. Become aware of child/teen's emotion (Gottman just had "child", but to me it is insulting to a teenager to call him or her a "child", it is also inaccurate and misleading)

2. See it as opportunity for intimacy and teaching

3. Listen empathetically, validate feelings

4. Help child/teen find words to label the feeling

5. Set limits while generating options

[my adaptation]

p 25 kids whose parents are "emotion coaches" are healthier, better academically, have better friendships, fewer behavioral problems, less violent, "more emotionally healthy"

also, more resilient, better able to soothe selves

when couple fights it decreases kid's friendships; hurts schoolwork and health

but the EC coaches kids handled divorced, separated, fighting parents better.

Father has distinct impact on school, relationships- father's influence can be "much more extreme"

"An emotionally present dad can be a tremendous benefit in a child's life, but a cold and cruel father can do great harm" p 26

:( uses disappointment as if it is okay p 27

p 28 thinks we need more economic support for families, thinks we are headed in the "opposite direction"

"Children in emotional pain don't leave their problems at the schoolhouse door." p 29

"schools are underfunded yet asked to provide more social services." 29 (he thinks we need to tax more! -- I prefer to tax less, educate more and set minimum standards for parents in terms of emotional and financial responsibility and competency.)

p 30 he say studies (uncited) show that kids who feel "respected, valued, loved" show all the positive signs of emotional intelligence, + less suicide, premature sexual activity, drug addiction (I can see that from my own observations and discussions with people around the world. Why do we need so many studies to prove the obvioius?)

p 31 we have inherited a tradition of discounting children's behavior.. because they are smaller, less powerful, less rational, less experienced. (Kids are world's largest oppressed population)

Llyod DeMause - 1974 Essay The Evolution of Childhood" talks about the horrible neglect and abuse. Says each generation parents get better. "Less of a task of conquering a child's will than guiding it [paraphrased] + "socializing it." (I disapprove of the "socialization" process- to me it is largely about conformity and obedience and denial of the self.)

Lois Murphy sociologist in 30's showed most kids are empathetic, and altruistic by nature.

"Growing belief in the intrinsic goodness of children" p32

we are letting go of "strict, authoritarian mode" and the old biblical idea that children are "born sinners" - a horribly dysfunctional belief to have institutionalized.

Diana Baumrind did some stuff on authoritative vs permissive styles. Logical results that some boundaries were needed. p 32

Gottman has a list of books at back

33 kids suffer when caretakers don't notice their emotional cues (eye contact etc) baby is not at good at regulating own emotions. (because they feel more intense need, become more desperate to be heard)

reward vs punishment

"Statements of understanding should precede statement of advice."p 34

Emotions don't disappear when you say "don't feel that way" or when logic is used, There is no reason for you to get all upset.

"Say you're sorry like you mean it" teaches them to lie and act.

Likes Faber and Mazlish

Babies who are neglected feel out of control. p 41

Kids learn it is possible to go from feelings of distress to feelings of reassurance. (pp) p 41


validate, stay with him - be there pp p.24

see his self-test of parenting style on p 43

"think about how negative emotions (and positive) were perceived in your family (be strong, settle down, ignore it, deny it, invalidate it, or supportive, understanding, good listeners, give advice, interrogate, lecture? self pity? p 49 pp

Good list of parenting styles on p 50*

Dismissing Parent -

  • Treats child's feelings as unimportant, trivial (He is still so young. Don't pay attention to his anger.)
  • Disengages from or ignores child's feelings (If I ignore his feelings they will go away.)
  • Wants the child's negative emotions to disappear quickly
  • Uses distraction to shut down child's emotions (tickling the child or trying to make them laugh when they are upset, or saying look at the fire truck!)
  • May ridicule or make light of child's emotions (You are so funny when you get angry.)
  • Believes child's feelings are irrational, so they don't count
  • Shows little interest in what child is trying to communicate
  • May lack awareness of emotions in self and others
  • Feels uncomfortable, fearful, anxious, annoyed, hurt, or overwhelmed by child's emotions (I can't stand it when she cries! I want to get away from him when he is angry.)
  • Fears being out of control emotionally
  • Focusses more on how to get over emotions than on the meaning of the emotion
  • Believes negative emotions are harmful or toxic (or "wrong", or not "nice") (It is not good for you to be so sad.)
  • Believes focussing on negative emotions will "just make matters worse"
  • Feels uncertain about what to do with the child's emotions
  • Sees the child's emotions as a demand to fix things
  • Believes the child's negative emotions mean the child is not well adjusted
  • Believes the child's negative emotions reflect badly on how they are doing as parents
  • Minimizes the child's feelings, downplaying the events that led to the emotions (You're making too much of this. It wasn't that bad. It's not worth getting so upset over.)
  • Does not problem-solve with the child; Believes that the passage of time will solve most problems [doesn't understand purpose of emotions, idea of repressed feelings] (You'll feel better soon. Just forget about it. Time heals all wounds.)

(My adaptation with help from The Emotional Intelligence Workbook - Ronel Le Roux, Rina De Klerk)

Effects on children:

They learn their feelings are wrong, inappropriate, not valid. They may learn their is something inherently wrong with them because of the way they feel. They may have difficulty regulating their own emotions. (IE their self-esteem suffers, they stop trusting themself, lose self-confidence.)

The Disapproving Parent

  • Displays many of the Dismissing Parent's behaviors, but in a more negative way
  • Judges and criticizes the child's emotional expression (You shouldn't carry on like that. You shouldn't cry.)
  • Tries too hard to set limits on their children (is controlling)
  • Emphasizes conformity to "good" standards or behavior
  • Reprimands, disciplines, or punishes the child for emotional expression, whether the child is "misbehaving" or not
  • Believes the expression of negative emotions need to be controlled (like Goleman)
  • Believes expression or feeling of emotion should be time limited (You have cried long enough over that.)
  • Believes the child uses negative emotions to manipulate; this belief results in power struggles
  • Believes negative emotions reflect bad character traits (You're weak/a loser/a baby to cry over this)
  • Believes emotions make people weak; children must be emotionally tough for survival
  • Believes negative emotions are unproductive, a waste of time [obsessed with efficiency] (It won't help to get frustrated/cry/get angry etc.)
  • Believes negative emotions are a limited commodity which shouldn't be squandered on "unimportant" things (Don't waste your tears on that.)
  • Is concerned [obsessed] with the child's obedience to authority [ie the adult feels powerless, helpless, out of control, afraid]

Gottman says simply the effects are the same on the child. (A little weak, John! Surely there are different effects. I would say the kids have even lower self-esteem and are probably more likely to be rebellious and defiant.)

The Laissez-Faire Parent

  • Freely accepts all emotional expression from the child
  • Offers comfort to the child having negative feelings
  • Offers little guidance on behavior
  • Does not teach the child about emotions
  • Is permissive; does not set limits
  • Does not help children solve problems (or generate alternatives); or learn probl solving method
  • Believes there is little you can do about negative emotions except ride them out

Effects: kids don't learn to regulate their emotions; they have trouble concentrating, forming friendships or getting alone with other children

The Emotion Coach

  • Values the child's negative emotions as an opportunity for intimacy and bonding
  • Can tolerate spending time with sad, angry or fearful child
  • Does not become impatient with emotions
  • Is aware of and values own emotions
  • Sees the world of negative emotions as an important area for parenting
  • Is sensitive to the child's emotional states, even subtle ones
  • Is not confused or anxious about the child's emotional expression
  • Knows what needs to be done
  • Respects the child's emotions
  • Does not invalidate the child's emotions
  • Does not say how the child should feel
  • Does not believe he needs to fix has to fix every problem for the child
  • Uses emotional moments to: (1) Listen to the child (2) Empathize with soothing words and affection (3) Help the child label the emotion he is feeling (4) Offer guidance on regulating emotion (5) Set limits and teach acceptable behavior & expression of emotions (6) Teach problem-solving methods

Effects: child learns to trust their feelings, regulate their emotions and solve problems.They have high self-esteem, learn well and get along well with others.

p 53 some people think acknowledging emotions is like watering weeds!

Kids won't talk about things if parents are uncomfortable with topic. p 54

"Adults who were raised by needy or neglectful parents may also have problems facing their kids emotions." p 54

Some parents take too much of a role - act as rescuer. p 54

Parents who can't solve kids problems start to feel failful, frustrated, [manipulated?] so they minimize or deny problem

55 parents who want kid to be happy all the time. "I just don't like to see him upset."

parents don't realize how strongly kids feel. (pebble vs boulder) p 55

Some parents believe that when kids don't react as an "adult" would, the kid must be "wrong" [but maybe the adults are wrong]

they think neg. emotions are "toxic" dwell, etc. want them to "get over it" p 55

p 57 disapproving parents focus on behavior. Example: spank them for swearing but don't ask why they were so upset they felt need to swear (pp)

"moping around" pouting, sulking, tantrums (parents feel blackmailed!) p 58

some ppl fear anger. feel powerless against it.

Don't waste your time or tears, some parents think. (I had a classmate in first grade who thought you would run out of tears, so her wish was that she wouldn't run out of them)

Some parents who weren't allowed to get sad, get impatient or jealous of kids emotions. Feel bitter towards their parents and take it out on their kids. Like not having money. pp p 60

his research shows:

self esteem suffers from low eq parents p 60 kids stop trusting their own judgment

kids are taught emotional intimacy (honesty) is a high risk business!

when parents don't know what to do or say, they do nothing.

Parents tell kid to "Smile!" - kid hated that p 62 (good example of invalidation, trying to force child to feel what you want him to)

One parent goes for a run when kid is upset! p 62 definitely not "there"

Zebra - A father gives his daughter the gift of understanding

From John Gottman's chapter on "The five steps to emotion coaching" p. 69,70

I remember the day I first discovered how emotion coaching might work with my own daughter, Moriah. She was two at the time and we were on a cross-country flight home after visiting with relatives. Bored, tired, and cranky, Moriah asked me for Zebra, her favourite stuffed animal and comfort object. Unfortunately, we had absentmindedly packed the well-worn critter in a suitcase that was checked at the baggage counter.

"I’m sorry, honey, but we can’t get Zebra right now. He’s in the big suitcase in another part of the plane," I explained.

"I want Zebra," she whined pitifully.

"I know, sweetheart. But Zebra isn’t here. He’s in the baggage compartment underneath the plane and Daddy can’t get him until we get off the plane. I’m sorry."

"I want Zebra! I want Zebra!" she moaned again. Then she started to cry, twisting in her safety seat and reaching futilely toward a bag on the floor where she’d seen me go for snacks.

"I know you want Zebra," I said, feeling my blood pressure rise.

"But he’s not in that bag. He’s not here and I can’t do anything about it. Look, why don’t we read about Ernie," I said, fumbling for one of her favourite picture books.

"Not Ernie!" She wailed, angry now. "I want him Zebra. I want him now!’

By now, I was getting "do something" looks from the passengers, from the airline attendants, from my wife, seated across the aisle. I looked at Moriah’s face, red with anger, and imagined how frustrated she must feel. After all, wasn’t I the guy who could whip up a peanut butter sandwich on demand? Make huge purple dinosaurs appear with the flip of a TV switch? Why was I withholding her favourite toy from her? Didn’t I understand how much she wanted it?

I felt bad. Then it dawned on me: I couldn’t get Zebra, but I could offer the next best thing—a father’s comfort.

"You wish you had Zebra now," I said to her.

"Yeah," she said sadly.

"And you’re angry because we can’t get him for you."


"You wish you had Zebra right now," I repeated, as she stared at me, looking rather curious, almost surprised.

"Yeah," she muttered. "I want him now,"

"You’re tired now, and smelling Zebra and cuddling with him would feel real good. I wish we had Zebra here so you could hold him. Even better, I wish we could get out of these seats and find a big, soft bed full of all your animals and pillows where we could just lie down."

"Yeah," she agreed.

"We can’t get Zebra because he’s in another part of the airplane," I said "That makes you feel frustrated."

"Yeah," she said with a sigh.

"I’m sorry," I said, watching the tension leave from her face. She rested her head against the back of her safety seat. She continued to complain softly a few more times, but she was growing calmer. Within a few minutes, she was asleep.

Although Moriah was just two years old, she clearly knew what she wanted—her Zebra. Once she began to realize that getting it wasn’t possible, she wasn’t interested in my excuses, arguments, or my diversions. My validation, however, was another matter. Finding out that I understood how she felt seemed to make her feel better. For me, it was a memorable testament to the power of empathy.

Selected books authored or co-authored by Gottman

You can order these from Amazon.com by clicking on the link. When you make a purchase I get a small referal fee which is nice to receive every once in a while.

How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child (I have read this one and recommend it. My notes are elsewhere on this page)

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

The Marriage Clinic:
A Scientifically-Based Marital Therapy

When Men Batter Women:
New Insights into Ending Abusive Relationships

How Families Communicate Emotionally
(1997) (no picture available)

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail:
And How You Can Make Yours Last

What Predicts Divorce:
The Measures