Raising a child who is self-aware, well adjusted and able to effectively manage his emotions ranks high on many parents priority lists these days. With recent world events involving acts of hate and violence, it behooves us to look within at our own emotional lives and the messages we are sending our children regarding self-love, self-acceptance and empathy toward others.
According to Daniel Goleman, a prominent psychologist and scientific journalist who wrote a book on the topic of emotional intelligence, “helping children improve their self-awareness and confidence, manage their disturbing emotions and impulses and increase their empathy, pays off not just in improved behavior, but in measurable academic achievement.” Emotional intelligence, as Goleman explains, has to do with how we manage ourselves and our relationships based on self-awareness (understanding what we feel), self-management (handling distressing emotions in effective ways), empathy (understanding what someone else is feeling) and how we put this all together in our social relationships, otherwise known as “social skills.” Thus, having emotional intelligence provides us with the ability to better know ourselves, get along with others and problem solve more effectively.
So, as parents, how can we best foster and nurture this vital skill in our children? To begin, start by seeing yourself as your child’s “emotion coach.” As a coach, you can help your child to better understand his emotional world through empathy and understanding. Here are some helpful tips to guide you in this process (it helps to do this for yourself as well!):
1.) Simply acknowledge, without judgment, what your child is feeling. Often times, in a distressing situation, kids can become flooded with emotions and don’t have an understanding of what is happening to them. Having such intense emotions is scary and overwhelming. When you help your child put a label to the emotion she is feeling, you increase her emotional vocabulary. For example, “You are so angry that Sam took your toy away.”
2.) Listen to and allow expression of your child’s feelings. All humans have a basic need to feel understood and accepted. When you can listen to your child’s experience and allow expression of unpleasant feelings, you are meeting your child’s needs (thus decreasing the need to misbehave), while also teaching him that emotions are not right or wrong, they just are. “You’re so mad that it’s raining and you can’t go outside. I would feel upset too.”
3.) Remember, you don’t have to “fix” it. Seeing your child distressed can be very upsetting. Often, if we didn’t learn how to accept our own negative feelings, it can be hard to accept them in others, let alone our own child. Remember, feelings are not right or wrong. They are simply emotions that come and go, so long as we allow their healthy expression. When your child is experiencing an unpleasant emotion, know that it’s simply your job to be present. Help guide your child through the experience using empathy and acknowledgement. Resist the urge to fix or make the feelings go away as this only causes repression. By accepting your child’s emotional life, you’re teaching her that it’s ok to feel what she’s feeling.
4.) Teach problem solving skills. Emotions, when acknowledged, provide us with information that can assist in problem solving. Teach and model self-calming skills such a deep breathing, walking away, counting to 10 etc. Once calm, help your child brainstorm solutions to his problem. Let your child come up with his own ideas to show confidence in his abilities, providing assistance when asked or if he gets stuck. For example, “You really want to play with that truck and Joey has it right now. It’s so hard to wait. Do you have any ideas for how you can solve this problem?”
5.) Take time for yourself. Parenting is hard work! Be sure to take time for yourself and nurture yourself. Model for your child the importance of self-care, as you will want her to learn to do the same.
Building our child’s emotional intelligence is a step toward building a world where differences are respected, disagreements are solved peacefully and healthy relationships thrive.
About the author:
Debbie Zeichner, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator as well as a Certified Redirecting Children’s Behavior (RCB) Parent Educator who has specialized in working with adults, children and families for over 16 years.
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What are your thoughts on emotional intelligence?