Most parents have two main wishes for their children: to be happy and to be successful. We invest huge amounts of energy in both of these, ensuring that they have the best possible opportunities to achieve success and happiness.
â??Happyâ? becomes the desired emotion
The crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of emotions – the one to strive for at all times. When our children are angry, sad, worried, frustrated, etc., we work very hard to change those feelings back to being happy as quickly as possible.
How many times do we say â??donâ??t cryâ? or â??it isnâ??t nice to be so angryâ? or distract them from their frustrations by offering them something that we know will make them instantly feel happier?
But we know, as adults, that life is not always just happy
We also get angry, sad, worried, frustrated, stressed, disappointed and hurt. If we do not acknowledge and deal with these emotions properly, we become blocked and unable to function at our full potential.
Accepting emotions and dealing with them is healthy
By accepting all of your childâ??s emotions, rather than denying or minimizing them, you teach them that a full range of feelings is understandable and part of being human.
Disapproving of emotions, or distracting your child from certain emotions will not stop them from having them, but it may force them to repress them. Unfortunately, repressed feelings do not go away but rather find alternative ways of being expressed and, because they are unacknowledged, they often manifest in inappropriate ways such as aggression, biting, bed wetting and nightmares.
How to help your child develop emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence can be described as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships mindfully and empathetically.
As parents, we can help develop our childrenâ??s emotional intelligence by following these few steps:
Name your emotions and your childâ??s emotions
Children learn by watching you. If you are happy, sad and crying, or angry, take some time to name those emotions out loud with your children so that they can learn to recognise and identify feelings and start building their own emotional vocabulary.
Likewise, encourage your child to name his or her feelings so that they can learn that it is safe and acceptable to have a range of different emotions. Let them know that it is normal to have conflicting emotions about something – for instance, he may be both excited and scared during his first week at school.
Acknowledge your childâ??s perspective and empathise
Children develop empathy by experiencing it from others. Even if you cannot “do anything” about your children’s upsets, you can empathise. Just being understood helps them to start letting go of troubling emotions.
Empathising does not mean you are agreeing with them, just that you are able to see it from their side as well.
Listen to your childâ??s feelings
Whether six months or sixteen, children need to feel heard and know that you are listening to their feelings. When feeling safe while expressing their feelings, children have an amazing ability to let their feelings come up and wash out, leaving them more relaxed and able to start finding a solution.
As parents, we just need to stay present and resist the urge to make those troublesome feelings go away. There are times when we may need to guide our children as to what are appropriate or inappropriate ways to express our feelings.
For example you might say:
â??I can see you are so angry that your sister took your toy, but we donâ??t smack. How else can you show you are angry?â?
“You seem so frustrated! Nothing seems to be going right for you at the moment…I wonder if you just need to cry? Everybody needs to cry sometimes. Come snuggle with me and you can cry as much as you want.”
By showing that you are able to accept your childâ??s emotions, you help your child to accept their own emotions. Accepting our own emotions is the first step in allowing us to resolve our feelings and move on, and to learn to become better able to regulate our own emotions. Acceptance teaches children that their emotional life is not unacceptable or bad but in fact is part of life and is manageable.
Teach problem solving â?? responding vs reacting
Children need to express their feelings, but there is a time when they also need to know how to shift gears to find constructive solutions to problems.
Most of the time, once children (and adults) feel their emotions are understood and accepted, the difficult feelings lose their hold on you and reduce. This creates a space where we can think things through, problem solve and consciously respond rather than impulsively react.
Sometimes children can do this themselves while other times they may need your help, but it is important to resist the urge to rush in and handle the problem for them unless they ask you to.
Emotions make up so much of a personâ??s world, especially for young children. The role of feelings is important in shaping the way they understand themselves and relate to others. So give your child a head start by helping him or her become â??heart smartâ? by encouraging emotional intelligence.
Fostering Emotional Intelligence in Young Children, by Sean Brotherson, Ph.D. Family Science Specialist NDSU Extension Service
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, by John Gottman
Three Easy Ways to Raise Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence â?? Psychology Today