"Dr. Laura, I love your examples with three year olds. I wish I had known about you when my kids were that age. So what about older kids? Who should know better by now, but maybe weren't parented so perfectly so far...?!" -- Annie
There's no such thing as a perfect parent. We're all doing the best we can with the resources we have in that moment. These examples are offered in the hope that they'll give you an additional resource in those challenging moments.
And that's why it's so important that we nurture ourselves as well as our kids. Then, when we need to dig deep, we have something inside to support us.
So, parenting for emotional intelligence, ages 7-11?
Your seven year old keeps interrupting you while you're working at home. He can't seem to play by himself. You start to snap at him, then realize that your reaction is a signal to take a deep breath and a second look. You realize he's feeling disconnected and needs some refueling from you. You tell your colleague you'll call back in an hour. You hang up and say: "You've been trying to get my attention all afternoon....I'm closing my computer and turning off my cell phone. You have my undivided attention for twenty minutes. We'll set a timer. What should we do?"
Your eight year old is walloping his
little brothers every chance he gets. You
set clear limits ("We don't hit") but instead of
punishing him, you
realize that he needs to feel more valued for who he is.
"You seem out of sorts lately. I miss our
special times together, since our family has gotten so busy
everyone's schedules. Let's have twenty minutes of special
time for just you and me every single evening after the
little ones are in bed."
Your nine year old is driving you crazy begging for permission to do something. You feel like snapping at her, but that's your signal to Stop, Drop (whatever you were doing) and Breathe.
Upon reflection, you realize that your irritation is because she just keeps pushing on your limits. You consider that maybe all this pushing comes from her need to feel more independent. You remember that you can always find a win win solution. But tempers are definitely flaring, and you want to calm down before you over-react. So you defer the conversation until everyone is calmer. You empathize, and then reschedule:
"I hear you're angry I won't let you stay up later. I want to focus on our discussion, and I can't while I'm trying to get everyone out the door to school. Can we make a date to talk about this after dinner tonight?" Then, you don't forget. You show up and look for a win-win solution in good faith.
Your ten year old screams "You never understand! I hate you!" Instead of taking it personally, you realize that this isn't about you, it's about her -- her tangled up feelings, difficulty controlling herself, newly raging hormones, developing frontal cortex and immature ability to understand and express her emotions. You take a deep breath, remind yourself that your child does in fact love you but can't get in touch with it at the moment, and consciously lower your voice: “Ouch! I see how upset you are. I know you’re not usually hurtful, and we don’t treat each other that way in this house. You must be really miserable to act like this. I’m so sorry that I'm not understanding. I love you and I would do anything for you. I'm sorry you’re hurting. I’m here with a hug when you’re ready.”
Your child will be deeply grateful, even if she can't acknowledge it at the moment. Later, you can give her a hug and tell her that hurt your feelings. This isn't about rules, it's about damaging a relationship you both value.
Your eleven year old keeps coming out of her bedroom and telling you she can't sleep. You're desperate to get the laundry done so you can go to bed yourself, but you realize she's telling you she needs you. You hug her and say "This often happens with kids your age. There's a lot going on --- starting middle school, your body changing, your friendships shifting, school getting harder. Even I must seem different -- I'm still trying to figure out how to be a good parent for a kid who's growing up so fast but is still my little girl...Can I lie down with you for a bit at bedtime every night so we can chat for awhile and stay connected?"