Emotional intelligence, as Daniel Goleman stated in his book of that title, may be more important than IQ. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children become aware emotional beings who believe they can develop their emotional intelligence by working at it. Again and again, our children need to hear these basic messages: wisely see and accept challenges, be proactive, and learn from the mistakes you make.
We are our children’s emotional coaches; we can teach thinking skills involved in emotional intelligence. Gone are the days when we thought, for example, a very angry person was just born that way and we might as well accept it. Yes, we are born predisposed to a certain temperament, but our brains are constantly rewiring and changing as we learn and grow. A person’s genetic makeup may lean toward shy or outgoing, optimistic or pessimistic, moody or even-tempered. But we change and we can intentionally stretch and grow; we are not defined solely by our genetic makeup.
Emotional coaching relies on a warm and nurtured relationship between you and your child. A close, open parent -child relationship makes it easier and more natural to teach emotional skills, and it’s the foundation upon which your child learns.
Everyday interactions can build and strengthen your relationship with your child:
- Hugging and touching frequently.
- Enjoying fun, relaxed time together.
- Sharing about your daily experiences.
- Listening carefully and empathetically.
- Respecting and validating your child’s feelings.
- Explaining your own feelings in an age- and situation-appropriate way.
- Providing positive examples of managing emotions and motivation.
Teaching specific skills is important, too. You can, for example, name your child’s feelings while she is learning to understand them – “You feel sad that daddy had to go to work, you wanted him to stay and play”. As she matures, you can ask her to talk about her feelings while you listen. We can teach children to understand that at first onset, our strong emotions flood powerfully over us. If we can wait about 90 seconds for the flood to subside, we have the ability to choose whether to let the emotion remain very strong, to do something productive to change the situation, or to just let the emotion pass by. That’s how our brains work.
Another skill you can teach your child is how to use self-talk.
Guide your child to be aware of the importance of how he talks to himself. Put-down messages such as “I am so dumb” and “I can’t do this” serve to lower self-esteem and make things harder for us. Positive messages such as “I am pretty thoughtful” and “If I stick to it, I can do this!” help to bolster our confidence and chances of success. Of course, we all make mistakes and none of us is perfect, but we can keep a positive tone when we talk to ourselves about improvements we will work to make.
So when you hear your child put himself down, suggest a more positive statement and remind him that self-talk matters. You could try something like: “Hey, I just heard you tell yourself you are dumb. You may have made a mistake– just like the rest of us do sometimes — but please don’t put yourself down. How about you tell yourself something like, “Hey, Me, I just made a mistake. I’ll do what I can to fix it, and next time I’ll do it better!”
Encourage positive self-talk by asking your child to give himself a pat on the back when he does a good job – “Nice work sharing with your friend. That took some careful thought, and you should be proud of yourself. Feel free to say to yourself, “Nice sharing, Me!”
Having high emotional intelligence has been found to help kids feel more positive, more in control, more equipped to manage their emotions, and basically more able to manage the bumps in life’s road. Emotional coaching is not a simple job, and most of us did not get specific training about how to go about it. We can keep learning, be respectfully involved in our children’s emotional lives, listen without judging, and coach empathically. Another opportunity for practice is probably right around the corner!
By Dr. Maria Chesley Fisk – Dr. Fisk is an educational consultant, speaker, and author of Teach Your Kids to Think: Simple Tools You Can Use Every Day. www.ThinkParenting.com.