Children Establishing respect for emotion is the most important childrearing task you have as a parent. If you and your partner treat each other and the kids with emotional awareness and empathy,
your children are much more likely to enjoy strong mental health, stable, satisfying relationships, and a rewarding work life. Here are a few fundamental parenting practices that will help build your child’s emotional intelligence (EQ):
Remember that you can’t convey what you don’t exemplify. Your children learn from you— through your actions, much more than your words. If you can’t communicate your emotions through your behavior, they won’t respect their own emotions.
Try to learn from your children. Children haven’t unlearned EQ as you may have. They make friends easily and retain their capacity for joy because they’re naturally empathic and instinctively ready to feel their emotions fully and then let them go. So, listen and learn; you’ll raise your own EQ and establish flexibility and mutual respect into the family.
Be on the lookout for repeating history. It’s a lot easier to instill fear of feelings in children than you think, even if you try hard not to. Write a list of things your parent told you as a child—you might even jot them on a piece of paper and put it in your wallet as a way of symbolically keeping them in your memory. When you’re tired and irritable, pull out that list and notice your own feelings as you read it. This reminder should keep you from shrugging off the warning feelings that arise when you start to utter these refrains yourself. Also, whenever you get a physical signal that you’re dismissing your child’s feelings, do what you can to observe your tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language—run to a mirror if you can. If what you find hurts you, it’s also hurting your child. Periodically recall how you felt being the object of those words and expressions. Invoking those painful experiences is a strong discouragement to repeating history.
Remember that unhappy parents raise unhappy children. If you’re exhausted and depressed by the demands of parenthood, your children will be depressed, too. You can’t sacrifice yourself and do anyone else any good, so keep yourself healthy if you hope to raise healthy children.
Using your own EQ to raise high-EQ children
No one can reduce the complexities of raising children, each one unique, to a list of simple rules. Through emotional awareness and empathy, you’ll find the correct things to say and do with your child at any given moment. That said, there are situations that arise in virtually every childhood, from infancy to puberty, that challenge parents’ ability to acknowledge the worthiness of children’s feelings, without being manipulated by them. And there are ways to incorporate emotional intelligence into your responses to these situations.
The following are a few examples of how you can apply high-EQ approaches to the unique challenges that arise in your own parenting adventures.
Fear of the dark. Here’s a typical power play that leaves EQ-challenged adults feeling manipulated, guilty, and just plain pooped. Has your child managed to secure a permanent spot in your bed because you can’t stand to hear them cry, you remember how afraid you were of the dark at their age, or you’re just plain tired of resisting? Assuming you don’t want them in your bed at night, your high-EQ alternatives are to empathize (not sympathize) with the child’s fear, and problem-solve together to come up with a solution that will suit you both:
Bossiness. When your sweet child starts acting up as so many children do at some point, the low-EQ response is to tell them they’re doing something wrong. Because no matter what words you use, they won’t hear you. The high-EQ way is to let them make their own mistakes and learn from them.
Temper tantrums. You might know this one, because it’s been in every parenting manual: Ignore these episodes completely. That’s a high-EQ response because it sends the message that you refuse to be manipulated by your child’s upset. Children who get a response when they throw a tantrum learn unhealthy emotional habits that will only harm their relationships as they grow up.
Greed. Sometimes kids seem to want everything they see, including things they don’t need and won’t use. Tell them that greed is sinful and shameful, and they’ll feel ashamed—and you’ll never know what emptiness they were trying to fill from it. The high-EQ response comes from discovering what each person’s unique needs are. Ask yourselves, “are we loving this child the way the child needs to be loved?”
Emotional intelligence with adolescents
Adolescence creates difficulties for many families, because no one knows exactly how to approach the enormous changes that teenagers are going through. Children naturally pull away from you as they pass into adulthood, but you’ll be eager to see that they get there safe and whole if you disconnect from your emotions. You’ll need all your empathy to remain understanding when hormonal upheaval turns your adorable kids into unpredictable, irritable rebels. It also takes sharp active awareness to remain the source of security and wisdom that your teenagers will need more than ever before.
You can maintain a sense of balance even when adolescence seems to turn your world upside down, as long as you’ve cemented your emotional connection with your children throughout their younger years. Mutual respect, loving acceptance of the inevitable changes that families undergo, and a constant sense of humor will go a long way toward preventing harmful splits. Here are a few high-EQ tips:
- Give young teenagers a job or two that they can do well. Actually, this is a habit you should begin earlier in childhood, but for preteens it’s essential. If they are to become independent and self-reliant, they must have a strong sense of self-worth, which you can instill by relying on them in some tangible way. When watching your children evokes a sense of energetic satisfaction in you, stop and pay close attention to what they’re doing.
- Don’t get too hooked on being liked. If it’s important to you that your kids think you’re a cool parent, you’re answering your needs, not theirs. You need to be able to allow them to assert themselves in ways that don’t affect the rest of the family’s needs and rights, even if it means seeming to reject you. Don’t let your hurt dominate your decisions.
- Always apologize when you’ve been wrong, even in small ways. Apologizing when you’ve made a mistake shows your teenagers that you respect them as maturing people, it’ll relieve their fear of appearing awkward or foolish by modeling acceptance of our weaknesses, and prevents resentments from piling up between you.