Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Note: This is the second of a two-part series.

If you wish to raise an emotionally intelligent child, you’re going to have to get good at being your child’s emotion coach.

Emotional coaching consists of the following steps:

  1. Being aware of the child’s emotions. Emotional awareness means that you recognize when you’re feeling an emotion, you can identify your feelings and you are sensitive to the presence of emotions in other people.  Children—like all people—have reasons for their emotions, whether than can articulate those reasons or not.   A 3-year-old can’t tell you “I’m sorry I’ve been so cranky lately; it’s just that I’ve been under a lot of stress since I moved to a new day care center.”  An 8-year-old probably won’t tell you “I feel so tense when I feel you and Dad bicker over money,” but that may be what he’s feeling.
  2. Recognizing the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching. While some parents try to ignore children’s negative feelings in hope that they will go away, emotions rarely work that way.  Instead, negative feelings dissipate when children can talk about their emotions, label them and feel understood.  It makes sense, therefore, to acknowledge low levels of emotion early on before they escalate into full-blown crises.  Addressing feelings that are low in intensity before they escalate also gives families a chance to practice listening and problem-solving skills while the stakes are small.  Your child learns that you are his ally and the two of you figure out how to collaborate.  Then if a big crisis occurs, you are prepared to face it together.
  3. Listening empathetically and validating the child’s feelings. As your child reveals    his feelings, reflect back what you hear and notice.  This will assure your child that you’re listening carefully and that you think his feelings are valid.  Tuning into your child’s emotions requires that you pay attention to his/her body language, facial expressions and gestures as well.   It’s better to reflect simply what you notice.  You can say “You seem a little tired today,” or “I noticed that you frowned when you mentioned the recital,” and wait for her response.
  4. Helping the child verbally label emotions. Help your kids find words to describe what they are feeling.  Providing words in this way can help children transform a scary uncomfortable feeling into something definable and is a normal part of every day life.  Anger, sadness, hurt, tension and fear become experiences everyone has and everyone can handle.   This doesn’t mean telling kids how they ought to feel.  It simply means helping them develop the vocabulary with which to express their emotions.
  5. Setting limits while helping the child problem-solve. This process includes identifying goals, thinking of and evaluating possible solutions, helping your child choose a solution and helping the child understand that certain behaviors are inappropriate and can’t be tolerated.  When children choose a solution to a problem that doesn’t work out, help then analyze why it’s failing. Then you can start problems solving anew.  This teaches kids that scrapping one idea does not mean the effort is a total failure.  Point out that it’s all part of the learning process and that each adjustment brings them closer to a successful outcome.

Emotionally intelligent children are the ones who are far more likely to eventually be successful in love and in work.

Source:  Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman (Simon and Schuster)

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