"It is vital that when educating our children's brains that we do not forget to educate their hearts."
- Dalai Lama
Research suggests that people with strong emotional intelligence are more likely to succeed than those with high IQs or even relevant experience in the world of work. Emotional intelligence is also the key to positive and satisfying relationships. And kids with higher emotional intelligence tend to cooperate more. So how can we help our children get stronger in the area of emotions?
One simple definition of Emotional Intelligence is the ability to:
Understand your own emotions
Manage your own emotions
Understand others’ emotions
Take perspective on others’ emotions
All that might sound simple but many children and sometimes parents struggle to recognize and acknowledge what they are feeling, manage how and when they will show those feelings, recognize the emotions of others and decide how to respond to others' emotions.
Unfortunately many parents focus more on cognitive intelligence (IQ) than emotional intelligence (EQ). In fact while IQ has increased 20 points since it was first measured, EQ seems to have gone down. We are seeing an epidemic of depression and anxiety with more behavior problems and aggression in families and schools. And while IQ tends to be more rooted in genetics, EQ is more teachable.
So how can you teach EQ to your child? Here are some initial steps you can start taking today:
- Enjoy frequent open ended conversations with your child in which you invite him to express his point of view. Refrain from trying to make kids see things from your perspective. Be curious about their opinions with regard to every day events and big issues as well. Ask open ended questions that help you understand why your child sees the issue in this way.
- Make a habit of noticing what you are feeling. If you aren't great at naming your emotions, start by noticing what is going on in your body - big and small sensations. Shoulders tense? Heart pounding? Pressure in your chest? Emotions start in the body - try to name them. Find at least one person with whom you feel safe talking about your emotions and/or start journaling on a regular basis to reflect on what you are feeling and why.
Notice your child's emotions. Use the most important tool of teaching EQ - reflective listening. Observe your child and if they seem to be feeling something either positive or negative, be a mirror for them. Tentatively say something like:
"Looks like you are worried about your quiz tomorrow."
"You sound pretty excited right now."
"Seems like you are feeling angry with your friend today."
If you don't know a lot of feelings words, you will have to gain some vocabulary. And don't worry about getting the feeling word right - your kids will correct you if you are wrong. Accept whatever they tell you they are feeling.
Reflective listening is a gift. It gives the child the message that feelings are normal, I am here with you and want to hear more. Kids tend not to love a lot of questions and this is a respectful, gentle invitation to communicate. The child may accept it or not. If you offer reflective listening on a regular basis, your child is likely to open up to you a bit more and become more aware of their own emotions. This is a positive step toward increased EQ and will bring you and your child closer at the same time.
Ruth Ettenberg Freeman, LCSW is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Storrs, Connecticut. She has taught parenting education across the state for over thirty years. Ruth is the co-founder of the Connecticut Parenting Education Network and lead author of a University of Connecticut curriculum called "Building Family Futures." You can learn more about Emotional Intelligence and other topics by joining one of Ruth's live online parenting classes at PeaceAtHomeParenting.com or catch her on Facebook at "Peace At Home Parenting." While Ruth has studied parenting for many decades, she has learned the most from her much loved biological daughter, stepson and foster son, all of whom gave her the inspiring gift of amazing grandchildren.