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These are my notes from, and criticism of, Goleman's Parenting Chaper in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence. S. Hein


Notes from Chapter 12. Title: The Family Crucible

p 189 Goleman begins the chapter with an example with a long direct quote he copied from the research work of Beverly Wilson and John Gottman. The example is two parents who are taking part in an Wilson and Gottman's experiments. The research involves watching parents interact with their child and with each other as the child learns a new video game. The parents watch and "help" the child.

In the case that Goleman copied the parents begin to shout at the child. The child starts to cry silently while the parents argue with each other over how the game works. Neither parent notices or attempt to comfort their crying child. Instead they simply give her more orders concerning the video game.

Goleman's first words of his own in this chapter are:

"At such moments children learn deep lessons. For Leslie one conclusion from this painful exchange might well be that neither her parents, nor anyone else, for that matter, cares about her feelings. When similar moments are repeated countless times over the course of childhood they impart some of the most fundamental emotional messages of a lifetime--lessons that can determine a life course."

Goleman continues he calls the family "our first school for emotional learning" and says that in this "intimate cauldron" we learn

- how to feel about ourselves

- how others will react to our feelings

- how to think about these feelings

- what choices we have in reacting

- how to read and express feelings (see my note under criticism)

I agree.

I also agree when he says children learn such things both directly and indirectly. They learn directly by the things the adults "do and say" to the children. They learn indirectly as they watch how the adult role models handle their own feelings and as they watch feelings "pass between" other family members. (note G. use the word "parents" but I find this too narrow so I substituted family members.)

Next G. says: "Some parents are gifted emotional teachers, others atrocious."

Then he says there are "hundreds of studies" which show that how the parent treats the child has "deep and lasting consequences for the child's emotional life." Unfortunately for researchers, Goleman only cites a few of these studies and he spreads them around in different chapters of his book. But his point is well taken.

Next Goleman uses some more of Gottman's work, this time from an article Carole Hooven and Gottman which seems to be an extention of the work that Gottman did with Wilson with the parents, the child and the video game. Hooven and Gottman's work showed that, not surprisingly, parents who handled their own emotions better were also most the best at helping with their children's emotions.


Criticism of this chapter:

Uses words like "crucible" and "cauldron"

On page 190 G. doesn't say "how to read and express feelings", he says "how to read and express hopes and fears." Another example of how he subtly uses emotionally laden words.

Of the first page in the chapter, approximately half the page is quoted directly from a research journal article. But nowhere on the page does Goleman mention the researchers who did the work. While he does have a footnote number two sentences after the long quote, the reader must go to the back of the book to find his source.

Also, the way the text is positioned on the page, it is difficult, in fact to even notice that it is a direct quote. This is because Goleman, or his editor, starts the page, and the chapter, with this long quote and it is only slightly indented from the body of the text which follows. The only way I knew for sure it was indented, in fact, without getting out a ruler, was because I could see the margins coming through from the other side of the page.

To me this is very sneaky. I resent Goleman's trying to present the work of others' as his own. He does this so subtly that one can hardly even accuse him of it, but I believe he does do it.

He uses very subjective words and labels such as his comment on page 190 that "Some parents are gifted emotional teachers, others atrocious." I suspect he and I would disagree on our definitions of gifted and atrocious parents.

Next, consider this sentence from page 190:

"Only recently, though, have there been hard data showing that having emotionally intelligent parents is itself of enormous benefit to a child."

Here G. does a couple things which bother me. First, he tries to make it sound like he is telling us something new. Second, he refers to certain parents as "emotionally intelligent" but no studies had been done at that time using the term "emotionally intelligent" with respect to parents. The term was too new and even now it is still not clear what "emotionally intelligent" parents would be according to any scientific measurement.

Thus, Goleman can not make the claim that the studies show anything about "emotionally intelligent parents." He might say "emotionally competent", and then define what this means, but he cannot truthfully make the claim which he smoothly lays out before his readers.

With reference to the video game study, Goleman writes on page 190 that some parents were "overbearing, losing patience with their child's ineptness...." I wonder why Goleman chose the word "ineptness," other than the fact that he seems to favor it in general. To me it is much too harsh to ever be used with children, especially those who are simply trying to learn a game with their parents shouting in their ears. It seems to be another indication of Goleman's overall attitudes about life.

On two occasions in the chapter Goleman expresses surprise at the research. For example: "The video game session was a surprisingly powerful barometer of the parents' emotional style." (p. 190) Then on p. 192 he says "...the payoff for children whose parents are emotionally adept is a surprising -- almost astounding -- range of advantages across, and beyond the spectrum of emotional intelligence." These statements by Goleman are another indication to me that he really does not have much real-life knowledge of emotions, children or the impact of parents. I certainly was not surprised by either of the findings. Affirmed would be more like it.

p. 193 Goleman reports the findings of the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs which list all of the following as being predictors of academic success:

Goleman says that all of these are "elements of emotional intelligence." But as I look closely, I wonder on what basis he makes this statement. I have no doubt that the items on this list do indeed predict "suceess" when it comes to winning approval and high grades, but I question whether all these items have anything at all to do with true emotional intelligence. This is another example of how Goleman indirectly tries to convince us that a compliant, conforming, and obedient child is an "emotionally intelligent." From this and other examples of his writing, Goleman seems to believe that any act of disobedience in itself is "misbehavior" and that emotionally intelligent children never question authority or follow their own inner voice.