John Gottman, author of “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” believes three out of four types of parenting styles fail to teach children how to appropriately manage their emotions. Today’s column will take a brief look at three emotionally destructive parenting styles.
1. The Dismissing Parent: Such parents are often very connected to their children, care deeply for them, but consistently find themselves so uncomfortable with the negative emotions that their children occasionally exhibit, that they find any means possible to dismiss the emotion. The motive is understandable. They do not want their children to experience unhappiness, sadness, anger or discomfort of any kind. So what cannot be quickly fixed produces such discomfort for the parents that they attempt to dismiss the problem in hopes that it will be forgotten.
From the child’s perspective, there are many understandable emotions that ensue: my feelings are unimportant, trivial, ignored; not understood by my parents; they may feel that their emotions are being ridiculed or made light of; they may feel annoyed or overwhelmed with emotions that no one has taught them to handle; and/or come to believe that “negative” emotions should not be expressed since expressing emotions only makes matters worse. To understand how frustrating this is for the child, imagine significant people in your life making light of you (tickling you when you are sad or poking fun at your negative emotions) or countering your negative feelings by encouraging you to act positive (”Where’s that precious smile?” or “Oh, don’t be such a baby!”). Frustrating.
2. The Disapproving Parent: In many ways Disapproving Parents are like Dismissing Parents but are noticeably more critical and lacking in empathy with their children. They don’t just ignore or trivialize their children’s emotions; they actively disapprove of them. Such children are often reprimanded and punished for expressing feelings (”I’ll give you something to cry about.”)
Actually, the motivation is often an honest attempt to protect their children from emotional pain, to avoid tears and tantrums. But, such motivation is shortsighted as there are many negative outcomes: the child feels judged for expressing emotion; feels that he must conform to be accepted; believes that all negative emotions should not be expressed or that expressing emotion is a sign of weakness, that negative emotions are unproductive, a waste of time, and/or develops the unfortunate belief that submission to authority is more important than honest expression of emotion. Common expressions of Disapproving parents include “Don’t be such a brat.” “Shape up.” “Moping is not going to get you anywhere.” Frustrating.
3. The Laissez-Faire Parent: Unlike Disapproving and Dismissing parents, Laissez-Faire parents are eager to embrace without condition whatever feelings their children are expressing. In an honest attempt to allow their children to express emotions freely, such parents do so at the expense of failing to provide any real guidance as emotions are expressed. They don’t teach their child how to deal with problems and often fail to set limits on behavior. This may be the type of child most feared by both Dismissing and Disapproving parents, a child who is out-of-control with his emotions.
Anything goes as the child has not been taught what to do with negative emotions. They come to believe that releasing the emotion is all that is needed. Such children fail to learn how to appropriately handle emotions. They may cry inconsolably with no awareness of how to calm down. They can easily be frightened by strong emotions with no awareness of how to recover. They may explode, leaving a path of destruction behind them. Without guidance, these children are also unequipped to handle their emotions. Frustrating.
There is hope. Children can grow and flourish with parents who serve as Emotional Coaches.
Next week’s column will focus on this style of effective emotional parenting.