Children's Emotional Intelligence, and
Buffering Children from Marital Conflict
For the past 13 years, my laboratory has been investigating the transfer of marital discord to the developing child. We have been searching for buffers against the deleterious effects of marital conflict on children. The question that motivated this research was: is there anything that parents can do if they are in an ailing marriage to buffer their children? Our longitudinal research suggests one potential answer to this question (Gottman, Katz, & Hooven, 1995).
The cornerstone of our research was a concept called meta-emotion. Just as the term Meta-communication refers to communication about communication, and the term Meta-cognition refers to how we think about our thinking, in a similar way, the term Meta-emotion refers to our emotions about our emotions. We had a much broader meaning in mind than just feelings about feelings. We were also interested in what can be called the “executive functions” of emotion, those things that regulate our emotional experience and expression.
We were interested in how people feel about an emotion like anger, what the history of their experience with anger has been (in their primary families and so on), what were their metaphors, associated concepts, and narratives about anger, and what their philosophy about emotion was. We interviewed people about their history, feelings and metaphors, narratives, philosophy about sadness, anger, and more recently, fear, pride, love, guilt, and embarrassment. We found that huge variation exists in people's meta-emotions. For example, some people said anger is from the devil, that they punished their children just for getting angry even if there were no misbehavior. Others viewed anger like clearing one's throat—a natural event. They said that one simply expresses one's anger and then goes on.
In brief, we discovered two basic types of parents: emotion dismissing and emotion coaching. Here are some of the characteristics of emotion-dismissing (ED) parents.