3 Tips for Cultivating Emotional Intelligence in Your Child (part 2)

by Gary Gilles

Mother and daughter holding hands_Fotolia_5407819_XSAre you an emotionally intelligent parent? Do you want to be? In part 1, we looked at the challenges all parents face in trying to find meaningful ways to emotionally connect with our children and teens. It is the emotional connection that children have with their parents that give them the deep feelings of security and that act as the foundation for other healthy relationships – now and in the future.

Your ability to deliberately help your child to make sense of his or her feelings, put them into words and then be able to accurately interpret and empathically respond to the emotions of others is a priceless skill that will serve your child the rest of their lives. In fact, if you had to choose between leaving them a large inheritance or teaching them how to meaningfully relate to people, their life would potentially be far more satisfying with the latter.

So, if you are up to the challenge, here are three practical ways you can begin to build those skills in your child:

  1. Practice sharing your emotion with your spouse and child.

When you are going through your day-to-day life, try to identify what emotion you might be feeling and practice saying it out loud to those in your family. It doesn’t have to be a life-altering event. Every day involves events and people contact that cause us to feel our emotion. For example, use the words, “I feel ____” and then insert what you think is the appropriate emotion for the situation (sad, angry, scared, happy, excited, tender) into that phrase. If that emotion involves a conflict, don’t use emotion-laden words to project blame, such as: “You make me feel sad.” Own the emotion as your own: “I feel sad because I said things in anger that hurt our relationship.” This keeps the relational boundary healthy and intact.

Expressing emotion appropriately to your children is not easy, especially if you did not come from a family where this was encouraged and practiced on a regular basis. But, if you work at it, the benefits can be huge. Here are some of the advantages:

  • When we express our emotion to our children we are inviting them into a more meaningful relationship. We are giving them the experience of emotional intimacy – the very quality that will enable them to have meaningful relationships with others as they grow.
  • Congruent communication (when the verbal matches the non-verbal messages we send) helps your child better understand you and draws them toward you because you are consistent. They can count on your message being predictable. That fosters security in the relationship.
  • When you express emotion toward your children they learn what is important to you. They learn about your values. They are more likely to internalize your values as a result.
  • When we model emotional expressiveness, we show them that having an inner life is good and a part of their reality. This helps build a strong sense of self. A strong sense of self is necessary to have healthy boundaries.
  1. Help your child identify his or her feelings and validate them

If your child can’t identify his feelings, how is he supposed to monitor them or read the feelings of others? Let your children experience their feelings. Encourage them to express how they feel (angry, frustrated, sad, excited, scared, etc.) about things going on in their life or even in their interaction with you. It’s good for them to be able to say, for example, that they are angry with you as long as they do it respectfully. This will help them to identify or label the feelings that they can then use in future situations.

After they’ve identified and expressed those feelings, be sure to validate them once they’ve expressed themselves. Validation is simply your way of saying, “I hear you, it’s okay to have the feelings you do, and thank you for sharing them with me.” When you validate the feelings of your child, you give them permission to continue sharing them out loud as you move forward. That’s exactly what you want. You don’t want them to go into hiding with their emotion. Not only is it physically and emotionally unhealthy for them to internalize their emotion but it will also create an ongoing disconnect in your relationship with them.

It’s important that you understand that validating your child’s emotion doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or give them what they want. You are simply trying to send the message that it is okay for them to feel and speak the feelings. This type of response invites your child to go inside, label the emotion and invites them to talk. The more practice you give your child, the better they will be able to identify and make sense of their feelings and the closer they will feel to you.

  1. Do ongoing work to make sense of your own experience of being parented

Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly drawing upon your own experience of being parented as you attempt to parent your own child. As much as many of us would like to eliminate select painful experiences from our memories that is not the goal. You can’t go back and do it over but you can integrate your own difficult experiences from the past. When you are able to do this, those painful experiences no longer have the same power over your life. Integrating your emotion means being willing to think about the situation, feel the emotion, and learn that you can tolerate the experience instead of pushing it aside. When you are able to do this you are no longer controlled by the emotion but can step in and out of it at will. As you are able to integrate those experiences more completely, you will also find that you are much more emotionally accessible to your child. If you need help doing this, feel free to contact me to talk about it.

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