We’ve all got our stories. Those moments where we wonder how do I help my child process these emotions? Or maybe we wonder how do we get past this growing pain. How do we parent emotionally intelligent kids?
It had become a common occurrence. Every. Morning. When it was time to leave for school, she would linger behind, searching for something to keep her from walking out the door. Her socks had to be turned down, and shoelaces placed just right. And then she would cling to me, silently begging not to be pushed out the door.
Her teacher was able to confirm she was fine once at school, and she didn’t seem to be having any problems adjusting. She was quiet. The moment of separation flooded her with emotions she didn’t have the tools or ability to process, making her an anxious mess.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Often referred to as intelligence from the heart, emotional intelligence (EI) is considered to be a characteristic of well-adjusted kids. “EI is the ability to identify and manage your behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions achieving positive results”(Dr. Travis Bradberry). But why would this be an essential skill for our kids?
Studies show fostering EI with our children teaches them about processing feelings, effective communication, developing healthy relationships, and working through difficult situations. Colleges offer courses about emotional intelligence; businesses look for employees who exhibit higher levels of EI, and children need to develop EI to become mentally healthy adults. Understanding our emotions and how to processes them can help with depression, stress, and our overall ability to be more empathetic and compassionate in our relationships.
How to Encourage Emotional Intelligence
I think most parents would agree — we all want to raise our kids to be responsible, well-adjusted adults. Teaching our children how to master their emotions is an integral part of their adult training. One great thing to understand about EI is that it’s a flexible skill set. It can be acquired at any age and improved with a little patience.
Keeping these four concepts in mind will get you and your child off to a great start in becoming more emotionally intelligent.
Be aware of your feelings and sensitive to your child’s emotions. Point out how it feels when you are home versus at the grocery store or school. Help them recognize how their feelings come from thoughts they are having. Emotions are an opportunity to teach and connect with our children. Embrace the opportunity by asking some questions.
• What thoughts are you having?
• Where are those thoughts coming from?
• Does it matter?
• Is there another way to think about it?
• How do those thoughts make you feel?
• Is there something different to focus on that feels better?
Help your kids understand how feelings are emotions. They come from chemicals our brain releases. Some chemicals can make our bodies feel great and others not so good. Our thoughts feed information into our brain, so it knows what chemicals to release. Teaching them how our emotions are feed by our thoughts helps them to become more aware of what they are feeling.
2. Listen and Validate
Feelings are not something to fear, and when we listen and validate we are helping our kids learn how to process rather than resist what they might be feeling. It has been proven, the more you try to resist something the more your brain works to focus on it.
Validation is not taking a side or saying “you should feel this way.” It means you are helping them recognize what the emotion feels like. Sometimes these kids don’t understand why they feel what they feel. Our job is not to tell them but listen, ask questions, and help them recognize and cycle through the emotion.
Remember to watch for the full spectrum of emotions. Point out different feelings so they can learn to recognize what excitement, anger, disappointment, joy, shame, guilt, boredom, anticipation, and sadness all feel like.
3. Label Emotions
By giving our emotions a name, we are taking ownership. When labeling emotions it is important to not only find a name but understand what it actually feels like. Sometimes it helps to write it down or draw a picture. Here are some questions to consider.
• Where do I feel it in my body? (my stomach, chest, neck, hands…)
• Is it heavy or light?
• Does it feel achy or sharp?
• Is it quiet or loud?
• Does it feel soft or hard?
Remember our feelings come from thoughts in our brain. Remind your child of how powerful their brain is and these feelings are created because of messages being sent to their brain. Above all teach them its okay to feel these feelings until they are gone.
4. Problem Solving
Encouraging our children to see their feelings in a new way teaches them about their ability to choose and redirect their brain and emotions. It also shows them how to recognize feelings in others in a more empathetic and compassionate way, helping them understand their emotional path of progression.
One of the best ways to promote emotional intelligence is to show it. Share your how your thoughts bring meaning to a situation. Allow them to be a part of the conversation in your head. Show them the way you work through your emotions and redirect your thoughts. When they see the way you feel it gives them a model to learn from.
Our children need us to listen and hold their hand. They need us to challenge them to reach from within and respond accordingly.
Parenting can be challenging. Our job never seems to end. My daughter, the one I mentioned at the beginning, learned about expressing why she felt anxious every morning before she left for school. Her thoughts were focused on things she imagined going wrong. We worked on identifying how her thoughts were causing her to worry and helped her develop alternative ideas to focus on.
She is now an active college student, trying new things as she continues to work through what feels “uncomfortable.” Teaching her how to be emotionally intelligent has equipped her with skills she needs to navigate the complexities of life.