When I was pregnant with my daughter Liah, I wished that she would be healthy, happy, and smart. At week 20, when the “scary” tests are completed, I remember sighing with relief when I learned she had all her little body parts and that her brain appeared to be healthy. What a relief! I looked into my husbands eyes, and we smiled.
When she was born, I looked for developmental cues to reassure me that my daughter was smart and learning normally. There is so much out there that focuses on helping parents guide their children to be “smart.” What toys to buy to help with learning, how to make your 18-month old read, how to help your child know the ABCs before 2, learning centers to help children advance in school, and of course, the ability to enroll children in advanced learning programs….
But what about emotional intelligence (EI)? What is our role as parents when it comes to our children’s emotional intelligence? The definition of EI is: “The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.*” What a powerful sentence, right?
So how do we help our children to have a “high” EI?
Awareness can help with controlling, expressing and handling of relationships. When one is aware of something, it gives us the ability to make a choice on what to do with it and find the words to express it. The old saying is right: “The first step is acknowledging we have a problem.” Feelings are not a problem, however, the statement is right in coining that without acknowledgement, or awareness, one cannot proceed. Awareness is something we can help our children from the moment they are born. The trick is, as parents, understanding an array of emotions and mentioning them when you see your child experiencing them. Checking out lists of emotions and seeing if you can relate to all of them is a good way to know if you will be able to use them with your children.
So from when your child is born, until about 2-years old, focus on raising awareness. Here is how it goes. When you see your child experiencing an emotion, state it. For example: “Oh I see that you are happy to see me.” You can identify this, for example, when your child smiles at you when you get home or pick him up from daycare. Practice this also with what are considered “negative feelings,” for example, if your baby cries when you place him on the crib, a way of helping with awareness if telling him: “I can see you are upset about being in the crib.”
When your child is a baby, you may feel that stating these comments, may not make much of a difference on your child controlling their emotions, and you may be right. However, the more it is done, the higher the changes that the child will have a high EI in the future, resulting in better behavior and less need of discipline. As a child begins to show that he can follow simple instructions and increases vocabulary, parents can begin to explain how to control and how to express emotions. The first step continues to be helping the child with raising awareness. Make sure to keep it simple. For example: If your 3-year-old child is having a tantrum over his sibling taking a toy from him and then proceeds to hit the sibling, the parent can say: “I can see you are angry about your brother taking your book (Awareness). It is ok to be angry, but your hands are not for hitting (Controlling). Can you use your words and ask your brother to share the book with you (Controlling & Expressing)?”
When children become older, and are fully verbal, focus on having a conversation with your children where you help them understand the different alternatives of their behaviors. Questions such as: “So what do you think would happen if….?” or “If you do x, what would happen with y? These questions should happen after helping the child with having awareness of their emotions. The goal of these questions is to help your child make decisions, as well as “to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically,” as the definition of EI states.
Some follow up comments can be explaining what would happen if an adult would do the same thing, or explain an actual scenario of an adult doing the same thing. For example, “What would you think would happen if I would hit daddy if he takes something from me?” Additionally, evoking empathy by asking things like: “How would you feel if your friend/brother did the same thing to you?” Many of you are probably reading this and saying: “OMG this is too much work!” And yes, you are correct. It is a lot of work. Raising children with a “high” EI takes dedication, but the pay off is high.
These are all the benefits of helping a child have a high EI:
Need less discipline
Have higher chances of being happier
Have better relationships
Have improved thinking skills
Have improved leadership skills
Have higher changes of success in life, because wouldn't you want to hire someone that has everything mentioned above?
To the success of your children!
Your Therapy Friends
Sofia Robirosa is the owner of Infinite Therapeutic Services and is a Relationships & Parenting Expert. She offers individual, couples, and family counseling to individuals seeking to enhance their relationships, in her private practice, located in Plantation, FL. She attended Nova Southeastern University for both her Bachelor and Master Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy and in Business Administration. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a Leader in Active Parenting for children and teens, an evidenced based program. She is also a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She is a passionately committed therapist, who thoroughly takes pride and joy from her job. She enjoys working with a culturally diverse population and is bilingual in Spanish and English. She is a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and an active volunteer of the Broward Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves her family, which consists of her husband, daughter, and two dogs. Some of her interests outside of work include spending time outdoors, traveling, and dining. Read more about her at: www.infinitetherapeuticservices.com and follow her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/infinitetherapy/