Parenting Principle #8: Teach emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”
This skill is one that is carefully crafted. Teaching this skill is not easy – it requires allowing vulnerability and truth.
If your child is the smartest person in the room but has a hard time relating to people emotionally, he is less likely to move forward than an emotionally intelligent person. The ability to connect with others in a vulnerable and authentic way is a carefully crafted skill that your child will learn from you.
Daniel Goleman is one of the key innovators in the research on emotional intelligence. He has written a number of books on the topic. In them, he outlines the five key elements of emotional intelligence.
Five key elements of emotional intelligence
- Genuine emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness. Self-awareness is an ability to recognize emotions and see their impact on those around you. Those who have an ability to understand the sources of their emotions are better able to understand how their emotions are affecting their current state of mind.
- Self-regulation leads to adaptability and acceptance of change. Regulating emotions can only happen with a strong sense of self-awareness. Self-regulation means knowing when and how to express emotions. The ability to remain calm in stressful situations until you are in a safe place to process your feelings is the core of self-regulation.
- Motivation should come from inside rather than outside sources. Rather than chasing fame and recognition, intrinsically motivated people work hard in order to fulfill their own goals and expectations. Those who are motivated from secure sources are better able to roll with the punches and adapt to new things. They are always looking for ways to improve and learn new things.
- Empathy is unequivocally linked to emotional intelligence. This is the skill that most helps in connection with other people because it entails an ability to understand the struggles and success of those around them. By being able to connect with a diverse range of people, empathetic people foster stronger and more authentic connections to others.
- Social skills develop emotional intelligence and emotional intelligence develops social skills. An ability to be positive and uplifting in daily social interactions improves relationships with the people you come into contact with.
Teach With Heart
Teaching emotional intelligence may be the most valuable thing you can pass on to your child. However, it can also be the most difficult because it requires you to get vulnerable and honest in front of your child to an appropriate extent. Though it may sound cheesy, talking about feelings cannot be replaced with any other activity.
The ability to identify feelings starts early and it starts with you. You can begin teaching your child about feelings at a young age by expressing your own feelings.
For example, you can say, “When you don’t follow my directions about crossing the street, I feel scared that you’ll get hurt by a car.” By showing your child that you’re scared and hurt instead of strictly reprimanding him, the experience will teach him more about safety.
Pausing to identify your emotions is a difficult task. It’s especially difficult in front of children. They look up to us and we often feel pressure to be the perfect parents they deserve. No parents are perfect.
The biggest thing children deserve is authenticity and truth from their parents. Grown-ups who can admit their human-ness are teaching a valuable lesson in honesty.
Communicating your feelings teaches your kids to communicate their feelings, too. Instead of acting out of anger, having a conversation about it is much more productive. Talking through feelings and getting to a place of understanding teaches healthy habits.
Trust is built when you allow your children to confide in you. When they’re young, they are experiencing new emotions at every turn. Uncharted territory can be challenging to navigate. If you can listen without judgment, your child will feel more secure and willing to be honest.
When people can communicate their feelings instead of blowing up in rage or acting passive aggressive, they are more likely to get through their difficulty in a reasonable time frame.
It’s difficult to experience new and uncomfortable emotions.
From the first hangnail to the first heartbreak, each hurdle that life brings requires more resilience and emotional understanding. Having conversations about these hurdles promotes emotional growth and understanding of self.
When you’re going through your own exploration of emotions, you can share what the process is like with your child. When difficulties arise in your child’s life, you don’t need to swoop in to save the day. Instead, sit with your child and encourage him to dive into his emotions with curiosity.
Instead of running from emotions, show your children how to cope with and feel through life’s many emotions. Teach Coping Skills
It’s not always easy to let emotions flow through and out of us. Instead, the instinct is usually to try to hold it together and feign stability. Rather than covering up authentic emotions, teach your kids to feel and cope with these emotions in healthy ways.
When children don’t know how to feel emotions, they often turn to other sources for a mental escape and relief. There are many coping skills online that are available for all personality types. When you’re first introducing coping skills to your child, try them together and see what works. Try these fun and effective coping skill activities:
- Observe nature. After a particularly difficult day, spend time in nature in order to focus on what is right in front of you rather than negative ruminations.
- Have a dance break. Take a moment to let loose and be silly in the midst of difficult times. Put on a favorite song and let your dancing shoes take over. This can help give a moment of relief in some murky waters.
- Create art. Whether the interest is in woodworking or scrapbooking, choosing some materials and getting creative is effective in entering a calm state of mindfulness.
Practice Gratitude. Fostering a grateful heart comes in handy in more ways than one! Gratitude increases feelings of peace. It helps connect us to what is around us in the present moment and it helps ease the pain of difficult stress.