Emotional intelligence refers to our capacity to be aware of, understand, express, and effectively manage our emotions.
Emotional intelligence is an important life skill that children need to control their daily stressors, build healthy relationships with people in their environment, and communicate their emotional states.
Although children’s emotional intelligence is partly determined by their temperament – the personality trait with which they were born – its strength or weakness is influenced by the quality of children’s interactions with their intimate environment (e.g., family, friends, school).
Parents can develop children’s emotional intelligence through parenting strategies that focus on developing the expression, understanding, and management of their emotions.
Dr. Gottman and his research team identified four types of parental responses to emotions that contribute to the impediment or advancement of their children’s emotional intelligence. These include:
1. Dismissing Parents. These are parents who ridicule, trivialize, disregard or ignore their children’s negative emotions hoping that all will be well over time; instead of actively problem-solving. Moreover, these parents may feel ill-equipped to handle their children’s negative emotions and believe that these emotions are toxic or negatively reflect on their parenting.
A dismissing parental response communicates to children that their feelings are invalid or inappropriate or that there is something wrong with them, which may result in children experiencing challenges in regulating their emotions.
2. Disapproving Parents. These are parents who lack empathy in describing their children emotional experiences. They are critical or judgmental of any display of negative emotions and respond with punishment, reprimands, and other forms of discipline that guarantee immediate compliance and obedience. Moreover, they believe negative emotions are a form of manipulation or are unproductive or a waste of time and need to be controlled.
Similar to the dismissing parents’ experiences, children determine that their feelings are invalid, inappropriate, and wrong. They also have a difficult time trusting their own judgement, their self-esteem suffers; they have difficulty regulating their emotions and have challenges maintaining healthy peer relationships.
3. Laissez-Faire Parents. Laissez-Faire parents unconditionally accept their children’s emotions but do not provide any form of guidance or limits on their children’s behavior. The lack of limits means children are allowed to freely express their feelings in ways that are harmful to themselves, others, and their relationships.
Laissez-Faire parents also do not teach children about their emotions. Similar to the previously mentioned parents, they do not engage in problem-solving or solution-oriented strategies to address their children’s emotions.
This type of parental response to children’s emotions prevents children from learning about their feelings and may contribute to challenges in forming and maintaining friendships and concentrating on tasks.
4. Emotion Coaching. In his research, Dr. Gottman found that there were parents who were successful in fostering emotional intelligence and self-regulation in their children. These parents practiced what he termed emotion coaching.
Parents who practice emotion coaching consistently respond to their children’s needs and see children’s expression of negative emotions as an opportunity to create parent-child intimacy. They are sensitive to their children’s emotional state and are comfortable with interacting with their children when they are experiencing negative emotions.
Parents who are emotion coaches encourage their children to handle their fears, sadness, and worry constructively; instead of being destructive or suppressing their emotional needs; and they serve as models to their children.
Emotion coach parents also have faith in their children to regulate their emotions and do not feel the need to fix or rescue their children from everything that may go awry in their lives.
Moreover, these parents view negative emotions as part of the parenting journey, are not confused about their children’s emotional expressions, and are respectful to their children’s emotional needs.
Benefits of consistent emotion coaching
- Children learn to trust their emotions
- Higher self-esteem
- High ability to respond and recover from emotional stress
- Ability to problem-solve
- Improved physical health
- Higher academic performance
- Improved peer relations
- Fewer behavioural problems
- Less prone to violence and aggression
- Buffer the harmful effects of familial stress such as marital conflicts, divorce, and separation
- Stronger parent-child relationships, increased cooperation, and reduced non-compliance
How Do Parents Become An Emotion Coach?
There are five essential steps to emotion coaching
1. Become aware of your children’s emotions. Being aware of your children’s emotions involves being present to feelings that they are expressing. It is also the ability to recognize that your children are in distress.
2. Recognize your children’s emotional expressions as opportunities to learn and create intimacy. When parents see their children’s emotional outbursts as opportunities to bond and grow together, they are less likely to view them as a threat or challenge to their authority. Parents’ ability to recognize, acknowledge, and explore their children’s emotions help them to feel more competent as parents and create a bond with their children. Moreover, the ability to discuss feelings gives children the chance to practice their listening and problem-solving skills. The safe space that parents provide during these discussions also communicate to children that their parents are an ally.
3. Listen empathetically and validate their feelings. To be an empathetic listener, parents need to hear their children from a non-critical place. And they need to not only pay attention to what their children are communicating, but also their body language, facial expressions, and gestures. Children who feel judged or ridiculed are less likely to be open to discussing their feelings.
4. Teach your children how to label their emotions. One way parents can use emotions as teachable moments is to talk to children about their feelings through labelling them. By assisting children in labelling their emotions, parents help them to understand their feelings better. The process of labelling the emotions also helps children to quickly calm down and recover from upsetting episodes as the conversation around their feelings helps children to make sense of them.
5. Set limits while exploring problem-solving options. Acknowledging and labeling emotions go hand-in-hand with setting boundaries. Parents validate their children’s feelings, but they do not allow them to express their emotions inappropriately. For example, an angry child hitting another child. Parents acknowledge the child’s anger but redirect or guide them into thinking about more appropriate ways to channel their emotions. Through this process, children learn that their feelings are not the problem, only their behavioral response to their emotions.
Once parents help children to understand the effects of their behaviour, they can encourage their children to brainstorm ideas on how to behave. Brainstorming for children under ten years old might be a challenge because of their limited abstract abilities, so it is important to keep the solutions at a minimum. Once an agreement has been made, parents should evaluate its effectiveness and make modification where necessary.
Children who are not taught how to understand and manage their emotions are at risk of being unprepared for the challenges and unpredictability of adulthood. Observe your children’s emotions over the next couple of days or weeks and take the opportunity to try the emotion coaching steps. Initially, your coaching may be a bit rocky, but keep practicing until you become more skilled.
Elias, M. J., & Weissberg, R. P. (2000). Primary prevention: Educational approaches to enhance social and emotional learning. Journal of School Health, 70 (5), 186-190. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2000.tb06470.x
Gottman, J, and DeClaire . J (1998). Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D., & Salovey, P. (1999). Emotional intelligence meets traditional standards for an intelligence. Intelligence, 27, 267-298. doi: 10.1016/S0160-2896(99)00016-1
Ulutaş, İ., & Ömeroğlu, E. (2007). The effects of an emotional intelligence education program on the emotional intelligence of children. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 35(10), 1365-1372. doi: 10.2224/sbp.2007.35.10.1365
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