How to Raise an Emotionally-Intelligent Child

Did you know that emotional intelligence is a better predictor of success in a child than IQ or academic intelligence?

Dr. John Gottman has conducted substantial research on parenting relationships and the impact on children. He is clear that children who are high in emotional intelligence achieve better grades overall and higher scores in math, are better able to self-soothe, are socially well integrated, have higher self-esteem, and even have improved immunity from illness.

So how can we help our child become emotionally intelligent?

The Gottmans describe two broad types of parenting styles that came out of their research:

Emotionally Dismissing or Disapproving

  • doesn’t notice or respond to lower intensity emotions

  • views anger, sadness or fear as ‘negative’ and expects cheerfulness

  • impatient with children for their negative emotions, as if they are a choice

  • minimizes or invalidates the experience of ‘negative’ emotions

  • sees emotions as something to be avoided or shut down

Emotion Coaching

  • the parent is tuned into his or her own emotions and those of the children

  • children don’t need to escalate into ‘big’ feelings or ‘tantrums’ to be noticed

  • sees emotions as an opportunity for intimacy

  • empathizes with feelings behind misbehavior (while setting limits)

  • recognizes that every emotion has information in it

The Gottmans ask us how we would react if a friend came over and spilled wine on our couch in the middle of telling us an upsetting story. I imagine most of us would be kind and polite and not focused on teaching them a lesson. We probably wouldn’t say, ‘I told you to be careful’ or ‘I knew you were getting too worked up.’ Instead we would empathize and try to reassure our friend. So why can we not be this way with our children?

The greatest challenge to being an Emotion Coaching parent is that we often want to turn everything into a lesson, which pushes our child away. We may view success as turning out an obedient child rather than focusing on nurturing the goals of good judgment, kindness, respect, and empathy… all of which need to be modeled in our interactions.

It may also help us to know that acknowledging a child’s fear does not reinforce it. We may want to invalidate the fear or tell our child ‘it’s fine’ or ‘there’s nothing to worry about’, but doing so undermines confidence in the child’s own feelings and intuitions.

So what are the 5 steps of Emotion Coaching?

1. Recognize your child is having an emotion.

2. Recognize it as an opportunity for connection with your child.

3. Talk to your child about what she’s feeling: ‘How are you feeling?’ or ‘Did something happen?’

4. Label the feeling based on what your child says and validate the emotion: ‘That must be hard or scary.’ or ‘No wonder you felt that way.’

5. Move to problem solving (and limit setting if needed)… but only after you validate the emotion first.

Other research studies have shown that just labeling and identifying emotions can help calm down our amygdala (the part of the brain that processes emotions and fear) – something we even teach to our clients – so this approach to parenting really makes sense.

And one more tip… learning to validate emotions before problem solving will also help you in other relationships as well!

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