By Melissa Farrell, LMHC
As a parent, shedding tears as a result of our children’s scraped knees and hurt feelings can sometimes result in greater heartache in ourselves than in our children. The desire to protect them from physical and emotional pain is common. However, this “helicopter” style of parenting may result in lost opportunities for children to experience valuable life lessons, and develop emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize, interpret, and manage our own emotions, and respond to the emotions of others. It is a skill set that helps to promote your child’s success in school, work, and relationships. In fact, Psychology Today says that students with high EQ achieve better exam scores, possibly due to their ability to better manage their emotions in stressful situations. However, when we dismiss emotions, we diminish an environment and opportunity that supports the development of EQ. Thus, the best we can do in helping our children to navigate these unpleasant or stressful situations is to help them cope with their feelings by identifying what they are feeling, and developing skills to cope with those feelings.
Emotional Intelligence is not predetermined at birth, and can be developed. Here are ways to develop EQ in kids:
- Let them cry. It is common to hear a well-intentioned caregiver tell a child who has just fallen, “You are okay.” A better statement of support or encouragement might be, “What hurts, your knee or your feelings?” Help kids decipher feelings such as shock or embarrassment, while acknowledging that it is scary to fall. As kids grow, continue this practice before dismissing the emotion, and ask them to define it and talk about it. In this way, kids learn how to recognize where the emotional pain comes from, which is half the battle in being able to effectively cope with their feelings.
- Make connections. Understanding the impact that emotions have on behavior is an essential component to EQ. Promote this by increasing awareness of both of emotions and behavior. Reflect out loud to children, “When you broke that toy, what where you feeling? How do you feel about that now that you are feeling calmer?” Through discussion, you are helping them to self-evaluate how they chose to react to the emotion felt. Make suggestions about healthy methods for managing their negative emotions.
- Model and create opportunity for empathy. The ability to be empathetic to the emotions of others is not only an essential interpersonal skill, but also it helps promote self-care. Make it a point to model empathy in your own relationships and verbalize the emotions you recognize in another person. Create opportunities for empathy, such as through pretend play, or, if possible, through adopting a new pet.
By quickly dismissing negative feelings, we suggest that those emotions are scary and should be smooshed down inside. It is far more helpful to acknowledge and manage your child’s negative emotions by talking using these steps aimed at developing their improved awareness and empathy, and their EQ!
Melissa Farrell is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Vice President, Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) and Clinical Operations at Spectrum Health and Human Services.