Understanding our feelings and learning how to manage them, starting in childhood, is important in the development of healthy emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) and a well-adjusted life. Here are five ways to start increasing your child’s EQ now.
1. Show your child how to self-soothe. It’s important for all children to learn to calm themselves down when upset. Self-soothing doesn’t mean leave them thrashing in a pool of their tears without so much as a lifeline. With your guidance, however, self-soothing helps your child manage his emotions. Work with your child to find healthy and effective ways to self-regulate difficult emotions; then lead by example. Caught in a moment of parental weakness, however, go easy on yourself. Even Gandhi himself lost his temper.
2. Validate your child’s feelings (with boundaries). Feelings are meant to be felt. It’s a good thing to remind children that all emotions are natural, and we have a choice to respond to them with positive or negative behavior. With your child, try to set clear, easy to understand boundaries of what “acceptable behavior” is.
“Validation helps kids to feel and express their emotions, develop a secure sense of self, gain confidence, feel more connected to their parents and have better relationships in adulthood.” -Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
3. Apply empathy before correction. If you’ve ever heard of Love and Logic, you already know empathy is a powerful tool in parenting. When you let your child know that you’re sincerely empathetic to his situation before doling out a consequence for misbehavior, it shows you care and understand, and it makes the disciplinary process more effective; as opposed to your child focusing on you being “unfair.”
Young children are still getting the hang of their feelings and how to process them in a manner that’s socially acceptable. Translation: they will freak out on you, often at the most inconvenient of times. Just remember to express that heartfelt empathy before applying any consequences. It will build up and pay off sooner rather than later.
4. Remind your child he is in control of his emotions. As a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up to make my own decisions. My authoritarian mom was in control of everything, even my emotions. I was told what to feel, how to feel, and when to feel. I made do by escaping into a world of my own. She couldn’t catch me on my bike, find me in Narnia, or track me shadowing Holmes on Baker Street.
Now that I’m a mom with a degree in psychology, I want my daughter to know her emotions are hers, and I understand the advantage she will have by learning to regulate them. Taking ownership of her emotions not only gives her a sense of self-empowerment, but learning to manage her feelings will increase her confidence and advance her emotional intelligence while giving her a sense of achievement.
Also, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), children who learn to regulate their own emotions tend to have longer attention spans, be more focused and less impulsive.
5. Build your child’s self-confidence, rather than foster an addiction to approval. Encouragement is one of the most useful, yet misunderstood, tools of parenting. It’s often confused with praise. The founder of individual psychology, Dr. Alfred Adler (1870-1937), knew before our modern industry professionals that praise has an adverse effect on kids, which Carol Dweck, Ph.D. has recently proved.
Instead of building up their self-esteem, praise can turn them into “approval junkies.” Encouragement, on the other hand, inspires desired behavior. (Dr. Carol Dweck)
Look at the difference between praise and encouragement when a child does something nice for another child. “You’re the best!” Here, praise is used to express approval of a trait of superiority, not effort. Alternatively, you could say, “You did a beautiful thing!” This encourages effort, thereby both increasing your child’s self-confidence and the likelihood he’ll repeat, even improve upon, the desired behavior without becoming an “approval junky.”
Keeping in mind the five methods of raising your child’s EQ, let’s not forget the power of a hug. Children need nurturing and affection, and the psychological and physiological benefits of a hug are huge.
We are emotional beings. Invest in your child’s emotional intelligence today, and it will pay dividends for a lifetime.
images: Lance Neilson, David Robert Bliwas, respectively, Creative Commons