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The more I learn about Maurice Elias, the more skeptical and critical I feel about him. The reasons I feel this way started with my early impressions of him before I began closely reading his writing. Then, partly due to his somewhat sarcastic suggestion via a personal email to me, I read much of his book which he claims is about emotionally intelligent parenting.
In fact, it is even worse than I could have imagined. Still, I feel open to cooperating with him if he is interested and open to my feedback. I may also have some things I could learn from him. I assume we could agree on a few, or even many, basic things, but we have much different approaches to raising and educating children. We also have different understandings of what emotional intelligence is and what it could mean for the world.
|Early impressions and reasons I
originally felt skeptical of Maurice Elias:
One of the first times I saw his work was on the eqparenting.com page. When I saw it I put it under the "Sites to Skip" category on my site review page, and I wrote this about it:
Now the site has been changed, but still is basically a big advertisement. Besides advertising Elias' book it is an ad for some software called "Personal Problem Solving Guide" which sells for "only $149."
If my memory serves me correctly, I believe I later saw a picture of him wearing a gold bracelet. While this may seem like a very small thing, it is a bit of data, and to me it is a warning sign suggesting such things as some possible insecurity, some arrogance and some over-emphasis on appearances and material possessions.
I also felt skeptical because he
endorses and promotes the work of Dan Goleman and they even seem to have worked together.
Goleman also wrote the foreword to the Elias book, which
the publishers made sure they announced at the top of the
front cover. Goleman seems to like to write forewords. (See a list) It
is just another method of self-promotion. He also makes
"friends" that way, too. Those who want his
endorsement know that his name on their book will help
make them money. The trade-off is that they can't be too
critical of him. So they compromise their integrity for
the sake of the almighty dollar.
This piece from his promotional description on the Rutgers site suggests to me he is too busy with self-promotion, networking, going to meetings, writing books and proposals for grants and consulting projects to actually have time to think in any new way about himself, children or parenting:
More data to consider about Elias and his motives: His eqparenting site says "We are dedicated to serving the needs of parents." First, of all if they are so dedicated to serving the needs of parents, why doesn't he give more information away, instead of using his site as a self-promotion tool? Also, I personally would rather see him dedicate his work to serving the needs of children. But he is a parent, which makes it hard for him to be a child advocate.
His association Rutgers which is the home or virtual home of the EI Consortium.
is a copy of an interview with Maurice Elias and my
running commentary in italics
is emotional intelligence?
It's the set of abilities that helps us get along in life with other people in all kinds of life situations. It's our ability to express emotions, to detect emotions in others, to regulate our strong feelings when we have them. It's our ability to focus our energies on goal setting and problem solving--to be able to take the perspective of other people that are in our social world. And finally it's our ability to have the basic social skills that we need to manage everyday relationships.
When I think of report cards, I think of kindergarten and first grade. The other side of the report card talked about things like "obedience" and whether I could tie my shoes, not whether I could express my feelings. I would guess that not many teachers would want to report something like "Steve is highly skilled when it comes to saying: "I feel underestimated. I feel controlled. I feel threatened. I feel punished. I feel mocked. I feel humiliated." And those were many of the my actual feelings in primary school, even if I didn't have the vocabulary then, since no one taught it to me.
Also, Elias, like nearly everyone else, thinks EI is most helpful for solving problems, but he doesn't realize that EI is even more important when it comes to identifying what the problems are which need to be solved. For example, when teachers are dominated by negative emotions, it is a problem for all the children in the class. But few of the "experts" like Elias seem to have ever considered that the child with the highest EI would be the first to recognize this problem.
Q: What is the "missing piece" in
educational practices that you have referred to?
This sounds pretty good. But is Elias one of the people who really care about kids? Or is he just saying what sounds good? Also, at the start of his reply he misuses the verb "to feel" when he says "We felt that." I have discussed this on my emotional literacy page. Also, he would get no points on the Levels of Emotional Awareness Test designed by Richard Lane and his colleagues.
Q: What are some of the obstacles to
implementing social and emotional learning in schools?
Saying 'it's ridiculous' is a violation of one of the main signs of what I call High EQ. This is to label feelings not people or situations. (See Top Ten Signs of High EQ). Also, I don't think the teachers and administrators, who make up some of his consulting clients, will appreciate his flippant remark. Then he says "You have to do what you have to do." He seems to believe we "should" act out of obligation, rather than out of desire. This is another indication of his old-fashioned thinking. His next argument is a better one, when he explains the benefits to teachers, but he sounds arrogant when he says "Of course it would."
Q: How are teachers prepared to include social and
emotional learning in classrooms?
This is fair enough, but I don't like his style of speaking. He just sounds arrogant the way he asks questions and answers them himself. He sounds like he is lecturing to a child. Also, he again misuses the verb "to feel" in the last sentence.
Q: Why is self-control so important?
I am not so sure that the ability to control your impulses is a "skill." It could be more a matter of the emotional stability in your home environment and how adequately your emotional needs have been met.
Q: What kind of difference could "the neighbor
test" make in family relations?
Again he sounds arrogant, cocky and condescending when he says "This is not a hard time to imagine." Also, his idea of "a day of rest" is ridiculous. Oops, I mean I feel very cynical about it! One day of rest is not going to make a chaotic household into a calm one. I suggest that people take a break when they feel stressed and in need of calm reflection, regardless of what day it is. This is more along the lines of what emotional intelligence is about than following some thousands year old rule about when to take a day of rest. It means being in tune with your emotions and then making healthy decisions accordingly. For him to say it is fine to have six days of "little insults and nagging" and being as "miserable as we like" if we just take one day off from such behavior, and that kids will feel cared for under this scenario, suggests to me that he is not living in the world of reality. Or, to say it more directly, that he is not in touch with either his own feelings or those of his children.
Q: What advice do you have for parents who want to
strengthen social and emotional learning at home?
Again, he sounds arrogant and cocky, as well as insincere, when he says "That's good. We like that." Also, I don't agree with his suggestion to think in terms of how you would want someone else to treat your children. For example, if you believe in hitting and punishing your child, then you will probably not object if he is hit by the school authorities or if he is punished by them or by others for things you think he "deserved." I suggest it is better to always consider your own child's feelings and to ask them directly how they feel. In my experience, many parents are not good judges of either what is emotionally healthy and unhealthy for their children, or for how their children actually feel. The parents have too many of their own unmet emotional needs and this distorts their ability to see or hear clearly. Even though most parents are likely to feel defensive when they hear how their children feel (if the children are not too afraid to be honest), if they can try to keep listening without invalidating the child, there is hope for an improved relationship.
I agree, though, when he says it hurts us more when we are criticized by our parents.
|Summary of my review of
"Emotionally Intelligent Parenting"
This book has virtually nothing to do with emotional intelligence as either I understand it or as Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey have conceptualized it. Neither Mayer nor Salovey is ever mentioned in the index, and nothing close to their model of EI is never presented. The advice and recommendations given in almost no way reflect what I believe would be "emotionally intelligent parenting." In fact much of what I saw in the book actually goes against what I would consider emotionally intelligent parenting. It is much closer to what I would call emotionally manipulative parenting. The book actually frightens me by its lack of sensitivity to the child's feelings and emotional needs. The primary reason I would recommend reading it is for those in other countries to get an idea of what is currently being marketed to American parents in order to give them some insight into the problems found with children, teenagers and adults in the USA.
S. Hein, Dec. 1, 2001
In the foreword Daniel Goleman writes that he was "troubled" (1) by the data which show that "on average, Americas children declined across the board on basic indicators of emotional intelligence." He then goes on to list these "basic indicators of emotional intelligence". He says that children were "more impulsive and disobedient, more anxious and fearful, more lonely and sad, more irritable and violent." He says there were "forty-two such indicators."
I am not aware, however, of any data showing that obedience is an indication of emotional intelligence. Nor am I aware of any data showing that children who are less fearful are more emotionally intelligent. Or that children who are less sad, lonely, irritable or anxious are more emotionally intelligent. The only research I am familiar with which relates to Golemans list of "basic indicators of emotional intelligence" is a study which showed that there was a correlation between higher levels of EI and lower levels of violence. As for the other "basic indicators" I would have to say that this is simply another example of Golemans overly-loose use of the term emotional intelligence. It also gives more evidence to support my case that Goleman thinks children should be more obedient, something I do not agree with.
Furthermore, given the reality of the environment in the USA, I find it entirely understandable why children would feel more sad, lonely, fearful and anxious. I do not believe these feelings reflect a lack of emotional intelligence. On the contrary, I suspect that it is actually the childrens natural emotional intelligence which is speaking to them about their environment. I believe it would be more helpful if we would listen to these children and try to understand what is wrong with the environment that is causing these feelings.
Later in the foreword Goleman repeats Dr. Spock, who said to parents, "you know more than you think you do" about parenting. This brings to mind the writings of Alice Miller who basically says what parents know about parenting has been handed down without question from one generation to the next. Miller would argue, and I agree, that much of what parents already know about parenting is highly dysfunctional.
Goleman also adds that he has worked with Maurice Elias. This is something which for me lessens Elias credibility rather than increases it as Goleman and Elias would like.
Still, I am trying to remain open-minded to the book. It is my goal to find something useful from it, rather than just criticize it, although I do feel critical and skeptical because of my earlier encounters with Elias work and promotional material.
The book starts out with what the authors call the 24 karat golden rule. They say this rule is "Do unto your children as you would have other people do unto your children." I feel skeptical of this because someone could easily say "I would want others to smack my child if they were rude." So, I dont find this rule of particular help initially.
Next the authors say that "We insist that others honor and respect our children, talk to them with courtesy and consideration and not physically hurt them." I do not know where the authors came up with this sentence. First of all, to say "we insist" implies that we have some kind of power over someone else to insist they do something we want them to. In my experience the kind of people who use the verb "to insist" tend to be self-righteous, judgmental and controlling. Second, the authors fail to acknowledge the many teachers who verbally abuse children and teenagers on a regular basis. They also fail to acknowledge that it is still legal for teachers to hit children with boards in the USA. And in fact there is an effort underway in the USA to make it easier to hit children without being sued. It is called the "Teacher Protection Act." (see www.nospank.net)
I wish that more parents would oppose the mistreatment of their children, as the authors imply is already being done by all parents, but unfortunately most parents seem to go along with whatever the school chooses to do. There are several possible explanations for why parents accept abuse of their children by others. First, they might believe, as Alice Miller explains, that it is for the childs "own good," or they might believe that the abuse by the teachers is relatively insignificant. Or the parents might be unaware of what is happening, or they might not believe their children. Finally, they just might not want to bother with trying to change the system.
Next the authors tells us they are "sure" they know how their readers would react to such abuse of their children. But how could the authors be so sure that they know how someone else would respond? I find this very presumptuous. Next they say that one of the ways a parent would respond is to say to themselves "how dare they do that." That the authors would use the phrase "how dare they do that" gives some insight into how the authors think or what kinds of people they are accustomed to working with or consulting for. I have found that people who use the expression "how dare ." tend to be relatively insecure, defensive and aggressive.
Next the authors talk about having someone "arrested and imprisoned". Again this seems to reflect the authors' authoritarian, punitive belief system. So far the book seems as if it could have been written by a religious fundamentalist, but in flipping through the book I have seen examples of what I would call enlightened thinking, so I will still try to keep an open mind.
In fact, what the authors say next is more encouraging. They suggest that parents know their own feelings well, take their childrens perspective with empathy, control their own impulses, monitor carefully their own behavior, and dedicate themselves to improving as parents.
On the next page the authors talk about the increase in "disrespectful behavior." This is another term which suggests to me that the authors, like Goleman, believe children and teenagers should be more obedient and show more "respect" for their elders, simply because of their age difference.
Still, I feel open to something useful from this book. In fact, I feel sure there is something useful, I just have to keep reading it, though I am tempted to just say this book is not worth reading, and is another exploitation of the term emotional intelligence.
I just noticed that the cover of the book is red, white and blue the colors of the American flag. I wonder if this is a coincidence, or of the authors are trying to appeal to the patriotic type of American parents.
On page 4 the authors talk about a child who "misbehaves." This is another old-fashioned term which suggests to me the authors havent really gotten the connection between the childs emotional needs, the childs environment and the childs behavior. Maria Montessori said that whenever the child did something which an adult might call misbehaving, it was simply an indication that the environment was not meeting the natural needs of the child.
On page 5 they use the term "supposed to be." This begs the question, who is doing the supposing? Again, the authors sound very traditional. Next they talk about "religious instruction" which confirms my suspicion that these authors are very pro-religion and are writing for the religious market, even though they dont claim to be.
p. 7 "We happen to be big fans of parental worrying, and we are worriers ourselves."
On page p. 11 we get some more insight into the authors values when they say: "The adolescent who is able to read a teachers feelings is more likely to get a break on a late assignment, some extra help, and maybe even a better grade..."
Here is another example of how the authors really think. On p. 14 they say, "After children have inappropriately expressed their feelings such as being loud and challenging to a parent -- " First, we see that the authors use the term "inappropriate". The use of this term hints that the user of it believes he or she knows what is "appropriate" and what is not. This brings to mind the authoritarian "parent" in the transactional analysis model. It also brings to mind a person who is rigid in their way of thinking and looking at the world. Again, these are the kinds of people I generally find to be self-righteous, controlling, judgmental, defensive and insecure.
P 17 three "shoulds" for example: "A family vacation should be fun for all members of the family "
P 18 "Parents need to recognize that their children will be upset at first and it will be hard to reason with them at the moment of greatest disappointment."
I see three problems with this sentence. First, the authors are telling others what they "need" to do. This is another example of authoritarian thinking. Second, it seems they are minimizing the importance of their childs feelings. It seems similar to saying "Your child may not like the punishment you impose, but they will get over it." Third, trying to reason with a child, or anyone, about their emotions is often a form of invalidating them. Trying to reason with them is certainly not helping them feel understood or empathized with. If the authors truly were in touch with their own emotions they would know this, so I again I find their writing very suspect.
The authors also include "goal setting" as a part of emotional intelligence and I have no idea where they came up with this. It seems they at times advocate focusing on goals as a way of distracting children from their negative feelings. (btw, they are not talking about using our emotions to set our goals, as I advocate)
p. 20 As an exercise they say to videotape a sit-com, but they say to make it a "non-offensive" one! Again, we see their need for controlthey even want to control which shows the readers select! Also, who is the judge of what is offensive?
P 26-27 They recommend a family motto, family mission statement, family constitution, family journals, family calendars, etc.!
P 27 Some examples they give from a "family constitution: "
(note the above are direct quotes, including the exclamation points)
p 29 They say that when one of the authors tried these techniques of family motto, mission, constitution etc. there was "silence, ridicule, lack of cooperation, angry conversation..." This also gives us insight into how well that particular authors parenting was working up to that point. If his techniques had created children who would react this way, or even if he would feel a need to impose these kinds of things on them, then why would we believe his methods are worth following? I would suspect in a highly functional family if a parent were to suggest these things, the kids would say "Well we dont see why we need that since we already get along with each other and know what is important, but if you want to try it, okay, sure, we will give it a try." I would also suggest it would be fairly easy to come up with mottos etc. since the family had already created a sense of unity and mutual respect.
The authors suggest that the parents raise these ideas at a restaurant so the kids wont be able to escape to their rooms. If this is not blatant control and manipulation, I am not sure what is! I would highly resent my parents if I knew they were reading books like this and trying out this techniques on me and my brothers and sisters.
On page 30 the authors suggest the parents try to make barter and make "deals" with their kids to get them to cooperate in all their bring- the-family-together tricks. They then give a list of possible things that the parents will promise if the kids will go along with their ideas. I was stunned when I saw the list! They include things which no parent would ever do in the first place if they were what I would call "good" parents! My guess is that the authors came up with this list because these are the things their children had to ask them to stop doing. If this is the case the authors didnt have the sense or sensitivity to know not to do them in the first place
The list they gave included:
P 39 50 A bunch of jokes to help parents introduce humor. I would say if a parent has to read a book to try to get his kids to laugh he has serious problems which wont be solved by trying to be humorous. I suspect the authors use humor as a way of distracting their own children from their feelings.
Then they offer more gimmicks to try to manipulate kids on the next 6 pages.
P 75 the "Columbo technique" ie not being honest and direct with your kids. More manipulation.
P 84-88 using praise to manipulate and control behavior. (The authors may not think of it as manipulation or behavior control, but to me it is.)
P 89 recommends ignoring children when they are having "tantrums" or expressing their emotions "inappropriately" Here is a direct quote:
"So, what does serious ignoring involve? It means no recognition of the child, and no eye contact. Also, no dirty looks, no reprimands, no rolling of the eyes, muttering under ones breath, not even a heavy sigh no attention at all. (Note that it is usually okay to inform children they will be ignored.) Naturally, as soon as the child stops the inappropriate behavior, he should be praised for engaging in an appropriate behavior."
To me this is horrifying. What are we trying to raise, obedient dogs? This seems like it could come right out of one of the parenting books from two hundred years ago which form what Alice Miller calls "poisonous pedagogy."
As I read more of this book I get the idea that the authors are trying to create some kind of happy, obedient robots (or at least obedient) who will be even more productive than the last generation in achieving the same goals, and pursuing the same values with virtually the same means. These goals, values and means obviously have not made the Americans happy, and in fact have created many around the world to resent and hate them.
This book truly scares me. And to call it "emotionally intelligent parenting" I find offensive to the field of EI.
What is most scary about this book is that the authors know just enough of about psychology and emotions to be able to use their knowledge to teach others to manipulate their children with an even greater degree of expertise and subtleness. The bottom line, though, seems to remain the same: the parents are the bosses and the children need to obey the parents. Instead of advocating punishment and beatings though, the authors advocate emotional manipulation as a way of controlling their children.
When I first saw the web page which promoted this book I wrote that the authors seemed to care more about making money than they did about children. After reading this book I am even more convinced of this. I would add though that the authors seem also to be concerned with their own power and status. They want to be thought of as experts in the field of parenting as Haim Ginott once was, but they are nowhere near the same league as Ginott.
I decided to try to read this book read this book because Maurice Elias wrote to me and criticized me for attacking him without reading his book. Well, now he can no longer say that I havent read his book. I can say with a clean conscious I tried to remain open and look for something positive in this book but I finally had to put it down because it so thoroughly disgusted me. The one reason I would recommend people read this book is to see what kind of instruction is being given to the parents of American children. After reading it with a critical eye, perhaps the rest of the world will have a better understanding of what has gone wrong in America and why they are creating adults who believe they can impose their will on the rest of the world, who feel little remorse for using violence to achieve their goals, and who instead feel quite justified and self-righteous about it.
In writing these words I am violating my own goal of trying to bring more unity into the world and into the field of emotional intelligence. I feel obligated, though, to warn the rest of the world and to warn any Americans who care to listen to what I have to say. I also simply feel too strongly about children to soften my words. I have little hope that Maurice Elias and his co-authors are interested in learning from me, or that they feel open to serious criticism or dialogue. I suspect that like Dan Goleman and the members of the EI Consortium, they would rather pretend I dont exist. They would rather attack, discount and discredit me than to take anything I have to say seriously.
But if they are truly interested in children and not just in their own bank accounts and reputations, then I challenge them to enter into a dialogue with me. I challenge them to let me talk to their children and find out how good of parents they really are.
I realize now that this book is not written with children in mind at all. It was written only for parents who are trying to achieve their own goals and meet their own emotional needs through their children. It is written for parents who want to control their children with the least resistance possible.
It is clear to me that the authors of this book do not see children as precious, unique, amazing individuals through whom nature speaks to us. It is also clear to me these authors are not in touch with the abused child within them. These authors have not really ever felt the pain of being manipulated, controlled, punished, rejected, judged, abandoned. They were not allowed to feel such things by their parents. No one who has felt his own childhood pain could ever recommend that a child be ignored, especially when they are in extreme emotional pain (what the authors call a tantrum.)
I suspect that each of the authors believes they had "good parents" and they would feel highly defensive if anyone were to suggest otherwise. But I believe that only those who have been psychologically abused could write in the way these authors have written. I may be totally wrong, and if they can offer me any evidence to this effect, I am open to it and will apologize. But till them I urge parents to read this book only as an example of what not to do.
Instead, my message to parents is this: Dont try to manipulate your children. Spend more time working on your own emotions and less time trying to learn tricks, techniques and gimmicks to control your kids.
When you have felt your own pain, when you reach the a state of inner peace, when most of your emotional needs are met and when you truly love children for the natural wonders they are, then you will be able to use the techniques such as those I recommend on my site much more effectively and authentically.
In particular I recommend the parenting chapter from my 1996 book, my writing on parenting and teaching from a more recent booklet and my parenting page. Please note that I was feeling very critical of parents when I wrote my 1996 book. Now, though, I am starting to believe that the majority of parents would do things differently if they someone gave them adequate training or if society held them to a higher standard. I continue to support some type of minimum competency requirements for parents, by the way. (See my notes on Licensing Parents, by Jack Westman)
|A Review of Emotionally Intelligent
Parenting by an Amazon.com reader
The book is also fluffy -- nine pages dedicated to specific jokes is overkill in a parenting book. If I wanted to read jokes, I'd get 'em on the Internet. And it was filled with psychobabble where plain English would have sufficed -- phrases as "material reinforcer" (also known as a reward) and "developmental adaptation" (changing as you grow.)
I was deeply disappointed in this book and regret the money I wasted by purchasing it. For parents seeking more useful advice, look for "Kids Are Worth It" by Barbara Coloroso.
1. One of his favorite words, appearing frequently in his 1995 book