By Kathy Hardie-Williams, MEd, MS, NCC, LPC, LMFT, Parent Work, Topic Expert Contributor
So often, parents focus on their child’s level of academic intelligence as a predictor for future success. It goes without saying that children who do well academically typically have more opportunities available to them. However, there is an additional type of intelligence that is sometimes overlooked but is no less important: emotional intelligence.
What does it mean to be emotionally intelligent? Basically, it means being aware of your emotions as well as those of others. It means having the ability to respond to others’ emotions with empathy and validation. It requires knowing yourself, knowing your feelings, and knowing how to balance your needs with others’ needs in complex social situations.
The concept of being emotional is often synonymous with being irrational, a false notion. Emotions serve a purpose. Emotions have their own logic that makes sense. They guide us and can be the driving force for learning and change. There is often a misguided belief that in order for emotions to be regulated, they must be suppressed. However, the regulation of emotions comes from understanding them.
As parents, we want our children to be able to think for themselves, to be compassionate, to treat others well, to think critically and exercise the freedom to disagree, to have value systems similar to our own, to have healthy relationships, to demonstrate strength and gentleness, to have purpose and meaning in their lives, to have a healthy self-esteem, to explore their talents and abilities, to work toward their potential, and to have the ability to step outside of themselves in order to “give back” to the world. Many parents believe that “discipline” is the key to facilitating their children’s character development. However, discipline alone will not suffice. As a society, we need to implement emotion coaching into our parenting in order to teach children how to regulate their emotions as well as how to empathize and respond appropriately to the emotions of others. This is not to say we need to throw out the baby with the bath water by eliminating discipline.
Some suggestions for parents to integrate emotion coaching in order to increase their child’s level of emotional intelligence are:
- Validate your child’s perspective and empathize. Feeling understood and heard will trigger soothing biochemicals; the neural pathway that is being strengthened each time this happens will be used by your child to self-soothe in the future. Empathizing also teaches your child to empathize with others.
- Allow your child to express himself/herself. Acceptance of your child’s emotions will allow the child to accept his or her emotions, which is what will allow the child to reconcile his/her feelings and move on. The result is that the child is better able to regulate emotionally.
- Listen to your child’s feelings. Children need the chance to feel heard when they express their feelings. Once children are able to feel and express their emotions, they can let them go and move on.
- Teach your child to problem-solve through feelings. When children are able to understand and “feel” their feelings, they learn that their feelings are signals about things they need to process differently and they become more empowered.
- Allow your child to process feelings through play. It can be overwhelming for children to try to put powerful emotions into words. Play allows children to act out their feelings symbolically and resolve them without needing to talk about them.
Given that the goal of parenting is to raise happy, healthy, and fulfilled people, it makes sense to develop your child’s innate, natural-born emotional intelligence.
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