I have recently been reading a lot about Emotional Intelligence (EI) or Emotional Quotient (EQ), and how it relates to parenting. Why, you may ask? Well, this topic seems to be on trend these days (or my high EQ browser is spitting up precisely what I need) and, I spent the few weeks before summer holidays feeling out of control and going from ‘0 to 100.’ This behavior was also directed towards my kids if they so much as breathed the wrong way. Call it the end of (academic) year burnout, too much going on or just a plain mid-life crisis. But, I knew something was off.
So, I decided to try and fix it, which meant researching and reading. During the process, I was surprised to learn that even in this age of digitalization and Artificial Intelligence, researchers have found that emotional awareness and the ability to handle feelings is a significant determinant of success and happiness, even more than IQ (Intelligence Quotient).
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Dr. Gottman, from the Gottman Institute, has conducted decades of research on this topic and published a book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. Here he states that there are two types of parents: Emotion Dismissing and Emotion Coaching. The first are action-oriented, un-emotional, and see this as potentially destructive in themselves and their children. The latter are accepting of emotions and explore emotions in themselves and others. The children of the two types were on entirely different life trajectories. It was found, for example, that children of divorced parents who received emotion coaching, were sheltered from almost all the adverse effects. Two kids with the same IQ at age 4 had entirely different educational achievements by age 8 if their parents were emotion coaching. The results were found to be stronger given they were cross-culturally universal.
Well, yikes. I’d better get my ‘coach,’ on because I know what type of parent I want to be, and I was certainly not rocking that in my ‘0 to 100’ model of pre-summer parenting.
But what exactly is Emotional Intelligence? Many people use the phrase but don’t know exactly what it encompasses. It helps us to be aware of and control our emotions along with being able to understand, manage and use them to attend to any given situation in an appropriate way. It is maintaining self-control, having mindfulness of others and increases our capacity for empathy; which enables us to be less preoccupied with our well-being. The reassuring thing is, if like me, you find you might be lacking in (ahem) a few areas, especially when you’re ‘at the end of your tether,’ the skill can be learned and improved on whether you’re 5 or 50 years old.
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This information comes as a relief, as I tend to lean toward the analytical/pragmatic scale of personalities and sometimes feel ‘icky’ or impatient if things get too ‘messy’ or emotional. So how do I avoid becoming the dismissive type? The following Gottman Institute pointers were helpful especially in navigating the thorny start to the school year.
1.Recognize negative emotions as an opportunity to connect and don’t scold
Children have a hard time controlling their emotions. Communicate empathy and understanding to help your child recognize their heightened emotional state. Say things like, “It sounds like you’re frustrated. I get it,” or, “You seem so angry right now. Is it because Sandy took your toy? I completely understand why you’d be angry.” Negative emotions are age appropriate and will eventually subside as kids grow.
2. Help your child label their emotions and don’t convey judgment or frustration
Once children can appropriately recognize and label their emotions, they’re more equipped to regulate themselves without feeling overwhelmed. Try using phrases like, “I can sense you’re getting upset,” or, “It sounds like you’re hurt.” If our kids can do or say things that are downright unacceptable and it’s hard to understand the emotions that seem unwarranted or irrational, try putting yourself in your child’s shoes. Ask questions, seek understanding, and convey to them that you’re on their side, you support them and you’re there to hold their hand through those moments when they feel overwhelmed.
3. Set limits and problem-solve, don’t underestimate their ability to learn and grow
Help them find ways of responding differently in the future. Kids yearn for autonomy, and this is a great way to teach them that they are capable of self-regulating themselves in a world that seems unfair and particularly upsetting. Remind them that all emotions are acceptable, but all behaviors are not. A great phrase to set limits and aid in problem-solving is, “I understand you’re upset, but hitting is not okay. How can you express your feelings without hitting next time?” Children need a listening ear, a hand to hold and a parent who can challenge them to reach from within and respond accordingly.
Times have changed y’all and so must parenting. Famed researcher on EQ Daniel Goleman writes in the forward to Gottman’s abovementioned book.
“These are hard times for children, and so for parents. There has been a sea change in the nature of childhood over the last decade or two, one that makes it harder for children to learn the basic lessons of the human heart and one that ups the ante for parents. Parents have to be smarter about teaching their children basic emotional and social lessons.”
This understanding has certainly heightened my awareness on the importance of developing EQ in my kids, but I know that it starts with me. Now please excuse me while I go and research how to cope with an empty house as my 3-year-old starts preschool. Or, maybe I’ll talk to a human being.
[Title image via Pexels]
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