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"If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far." --Daniel Goleman

Today we're exploring the fifth commitment from 10 Commitments that Will Make You a More Inspired Parent -- and a Happier Person!:

 Commit to teaching emotional intelligence.

Most new parents consciously strive to nurture their baby's intelligence. But in all the hoopla over the ineffectiveness of Baby Einstein tapes, we're missing the big story:  Emotional Intelligence is much more critical to your child's future than intellectual intelligence.

Managing anxiety in order to tackle a big project, managing anger in order to work through a marital conflict, managing fear in order to apply for a job -- the ability of a human being to manage his or her emotions in a healthy way will determine the quality of his life much more fundamentally than his IQ. Even as a youngster, your child's ability to read the cues of other children will make the difference between being able to join in the festivities at a birthday party and  make friends versus being a social outcast.  In fact, psychologists have come to call this ability EQ, or Emotional Intelligence Quotient.

What are the core components of high EQ?  Emotional self knowledge and self acceptance, sensitivity to the cues of others,  empathy (which can be defined as the ability to see and feel something from the other’s point of view), and the ability to regulate one’s own anxiety in order to talk about emotionally charged issues in a constructive way.

How do you teach emotional intelligence? You see every "difficult" emotion expressed by your child as an opportunity.

1. Empathize. Even if you can't "do anything" about your child's upsets, empathize. Kids develop empathy by experiencing it from others. And just being understood helps humans to let go of troubling emotions. If your child's upset seems out of proportion to the situation, remember that we all store up emotions and then let ourselves experience them once we find a safe haven. Then we're free to feel good and move on.

2. Remember that little ones can't differentiate between their emotions and their "selves." Accept your child’s emotions, rather than denying or minimizing them, which gives kids the message that some feelings are shameful or unacceptable. Instead, teach that the full range of feelings is understandable and part of being human, even while actions must be limited. ("You feel so angry at your brother for pushing you! That hurt! We don't hit, but let's tell him in words that he isn't to hurt you.")

3. Give your kids words to express how they feel (“You’re mad your tower fell!”), which is the first step for kids in learning to manage the emotions that overpower them.

4. Look for the needs behind feelings. "Troublesome" feelings signal a need.  Shutting down the feelings doesn't get rid of the need, or the feeling. In fact, repressed feelings tend to pop out unmodulated, for instance when your otherwise well-behaved toddler socks her little brother.  Instead, address the need, whether it be for power ("You want to do it yourself!"), connection ("Starting school is fun, but you miss time with Mommy. Let's snuggle and play together every day after school for a bit"), or sleep ("You're having a hard time this morning.  I think everything is a bit too much for you because we all got to bed late last night and didn't get quite enough sleep. Maybe we need to spend some cozy time this morning on the couch reading a pile of books.")

5. When a desire can't be granted, acknowledge it and grant it through "wish fulfillment" (“You wish you could have a cookie.. I bet you could gobble ten cookies right now!”), then find a way to meet the deeper need ("I think you're hungry.  It's almost time for dinner but you can't wait.  Let's find a snack that makes your body feel better.")

6. Remember that anger is always a defense against deeper emotions, like fear, hurt or sadness. Acknowledge the anger, but then go under it to empathize with the deeper emotions and try to address them. ("You hate the new baby? I hear you. I see how mad you are at me for spending time with the baby.  You liked it better when it was just you and me. You feel so sad that things are different now and I am so busy with the baby.  Come snuggle with me and I will hold you and you can feel your sad and mad feelings. When you're ready I will kiss your nose and toes and we can play baby games, just you and me.")

7. Don't take it personally, and resist the urge to escalate or retaliate.  Your child has big feelings. They aren't about you, even when they're yelling "I hate you!" It's about them: their tangled up feelings, their difficulty controlling themselves, their immature ability to understand and express their emotions.  When your daughter says "You NEVER understand!" try to hear that as information about her -- at this moment she feels like she's never understood -- rather than about you. Model emotional self-management by simply taking a deep breath and trying to see it from her perspective. Remind yourself that it's hard to be a kid.  She doesn't yet have the internal resources to manage her emotions -- but you do, right? 

7. Don't get lost in emotion. Emotions are a message, not a place to wallow. Teach your kids to notice them, breathe through them, NOT necessarily act on them, then problem-solve and move on. 

Emotion-coaching begins with managing our own unruly emotions so that we can coach our kids on how to handle theirs.  Tough? Yes, because most of us weren't raised this way ourselves. 

Have you noticed the silver lining? We get a chance to grow in emotional intelligence ourselves.  So if you got swatted instead of understood when you were a kid, it's never too late to have a happy childhood.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010 | Permalink | Blog Home
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