Dr. John Gottman, a psychology researcher known for his studies on family dynamics, has defined and studied a model of parenting styles. Like the Baumrind model, Gottman identified four main parenting styles.[i] Unlike the Baumrind model which encompasses the role of parenting in a broad sense, Gottman's four styles focus only on emotional aspects of the parent-child relationship.
Gottman's four parenting styles are disapproving, dismissive, laissez faire, and emotion coach. Disapproving parents actively disapprove of children's negative emotions, resulting in insecure children having limited emotional control. Dismissive parents attach no importance to children's negative emotions, also resulting in insecure children having limited emotional control. Laissez Faire parents accept but do not co-manage negative emotions, resulting in children having limited emotional control, limited self-control, and limited social skills. Emotion coach parents accept and co-manage negative emotions, resulting in children having emotional control, self-control, and social skills. Table 1 summarizes Gottman’s descriptions of each parenting style as well as the child and adolescent outcomes he reported as correlating with each style.
Both Baumrind's and Gottman's models of parenting styles can be represented in 2x2 matrices, which I have combined in one pictorial in Table 5. The styles fall within continua of responsiveness and demandingness: responsiveness to the child's needs, responsiveness to the child's emotions, demandingness to follow rules, and demandingness to resolve problems.
Imagine the toy clean-up scenario again, and the child is upset and crying because he doesn't want to clean up the toys. A permissive Laissez Faire parent's heart may melt when seeing the distraught child, and pick up the toys while offering comfort such as "There, there, you poor thing" without acknowledging the source of the child's distress. By contrast, the authoritarian disapprover will become irritated and may threaten "Pick up those toys and you had better stop crying before I give you something to cry about," without offering guidance to help the child deal with the intense emotions. The neglectful dismisser may say something like, "It's just a few toys, there is nothing to cry about," completely invalidating the child's feelings. The authoritative emotion coach will start by exploring the issue with questions such as "You seem upset. Can you tell me what is bothering you?" helping the child to label his feelings and then to overcome the problem. The authoritative emotion coach is accepting of both the child's needs and the child's feelings, and takes them into consideration when setting expectations for the child to meet. While those expectations are high, they are attainable as the parent and child navigate challenges and emotional difficulties together.
The pairings of Baumrind and Gottman styles are somewhat artificial. The Baumrind model is scoped to include general conditions of the parent-child dynamic, while Gottman's model is confined to the emotional domain. It is plausible that a parent could exhibit high demandingness in one domain like academics but low demandingness in the emotional domain. So authoritarian parents are not always disapproving parents and so forth.
It is therefore not surprising to see different correlations between the two models. The study referenced using Baumrind typologies showed one inferior style and three superior with regard to emotional intelligence, while Gottman's results show one superior parenting style and three inferior ones. But overall, the authoritative and emotion coaching styles, both sharing the same quadrant in the matrix, are associated with the best outcomes.
The real value in overlaying the two models is to contrast their representations of the whole child. While Baumrind-centered studies focus on how the parent operates and what the child does, Gottman's work centers on the parent-child bond and how the child feels. When reading descriptions of the Baumrind parenting styles, I feel as if I am probing data in order to characterize a child's behavior. With Gottman's definitions, I feel as if I am peering out from behind the child's eyes. I have found this change in perspective to be enlightening.
Gottman adds life to the clinical-sounding dimensions of responsiveness and demandingness. He adds vulnerability, promise, despair, and hope. Parents would do well to infuse those sentiments into their thinking when considering parenting styles.
I find that doing so naturally draws me to autonomy-supportive practices. Ryan and Deci were right about beginning with empathy. When I read about disapproving, dismissive, and Laissez Faire parenting styles, I feel inadequate and ineffectual. And that must be exactly what children raised by authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful parents feel at times. When I read about emotion coaches, I feel like I matter and can make an impact. And so it is with an autonomy-supportive, authoritative, emotion coaching parenting style.
I can share a pivotal example from personal experience. When Son was two years old, he was misbehaving. I don’t remember the behavior, but I do remember he was intransigent. I decided to administer a “time-out.” It was a standard parenting tactic, and highly recommended by many parenting authorities.
Son refused to go to the time-out chair. After many failed attempts at diplomacy, I picked him up to move him to the chair. He protested more vigorously, thrashing in my arms. I’ll never forget the words he shouted as he resisted: don’t take me. He delivered those words – to his own father – with a mixture of fear and hopelessness. He was still resistant, yet resigned to my will. This made a deep impression on me. Is this what a child says to someone who empowers him, enables him, cares for him, and loves him – “don’t take me” – or is this what a child says to someone who represses him, controls him, and takes from him?
Would you feel like you matter to someone who imposes their will upon you, physically forcing you into a place you do not want to be? I wouldn’t, and I don’t think a child would, either. I think a child would feel like an object, an expendable possession of the parent.
Would you be made to feel like you can make an impact, when you are being “taken” against your will, against your most ardent protests? Do you think a child would? I think a child would feel powerless, impotent against the irresistible force of his parent.
In that moment, I became anti-time-out. I never again attempted to issue a punishment to one of my children. Back then, I did not know about harsh controls or self-determination theory. All I had to go on was how I thought Son must have felt. All I had to guide me was my sense of empathy. My empathy guided me to practices that happen to be autonomy supportive.
We have now covered three different models of parenting styles. Where does your empathy guide you? Is there a particular style that resonates with you?
[i] John Gottman, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1997), 50-52.
How to Properly Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “Parenting Styles, Part III: The Gottman Model”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date], https://www.thekindofparentyouare.com/articles/parenting-styles-part-iii-the-gottman-model.