by Dr. Laura Markham, founder of AhaParenting.com and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings and her latest book, the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook.
So you want to raise an emotionally intelligent child and you’re wondering where to begin? Start with these five steps.
1. Acknowledge your child’s perspective and empathize.
Even if you can’t “do anything” about your child’s upsets, empathize. Just being understood helps humans let go of troubling emotions. If your child’s upset seems out of proportion to the situation, remember that we all store up emotions and then let ourselves experience them once we find a safe haven. Then we’re free to move on.
Empathizing doesn’t mean you agree, just that you see it from his side, too. He may have to do what you say, but he’s entitled to his own perspective. We all know how good it feels to have our position acknowledged; somehow it just makes it easier when we don’t get our way.
“It’s hard for you to stop playing and come to dinner, but it’s time now.”
“You wish you could have me all to yourself, don’t you?”
“You’re so disappointed that it’s raining.”
“You want to stay up later like the big kids, I know.”
“You’re mad your tower fell!”
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
- Feeling understood triggers soothing biochemicals; that neural pathway you’re strengthening each time he feels soothed is what he’ll use to soothe himself as he gets older.
- Children develop empathy by experiencing it from others.
- You’re helping your child reflect on his experience and what triggers his feelings. For little ones, just knowing there’s a name for their feeling is an early tool in learning to manage the emotions that flood them.
2. Allow expression
Little ones can’t differentiate between their emotions and their “selves.” Accept your child’s emotions, rather than denying or minimizing them, which gives children the message that some feelings are shameful or unacceptable.