Raising Emotionally Intelligent Kids

I believe the children are our future. Teach them well, and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of…Oh, sorry, I was channeling Whitney Houston there a moment. 

Seriously though, as moms, we have one thing in common: We want to raise happy, healthy humans. In the book “Emotion Agility” by Susan David, Ph.D., a book I highly recommend, she points out that helping a child develop emotional intelligence is no small feat, and yet pretty simple when you get down to it. Susan even goes so far as to say, “Emotional agility is like a vaccine that helps inoculate kids against being overwhelmed by the unpleasantness that life no doubt has in store for them.” Whoa…that’s pretty huge. 

emotional intelligenceSo, what can we do to help prepare our kids to develop the resiliency they need to flourish in an otherwise overwhelming and sometimes cruel world? Read on.

Developing Your Child’s Emotional Resilience

  1. Help Change Your Child’s Relationship with Fear. Kids don’t have as much experience about life, so of course, they’re understandably freaked out by new and different experiences. What we as parents can do is have a conversation with them about courage, which is not the absence of fear, but the joining of emotion. It’s essentially saying, “feel the fear and do it anyway.” When you encourage kids to saddle up next to their emotion, face it, feel it, and simmer in its juices for a bit, they can wrangle up some courage to realize this emotion is well, just an emotion, and it becomes easier to face some of their most challenging situations. 
  2. Model What You Want to Teach. Do step one above, because your kids are watching (gulp). I can’t tell you how many times I find out in the counseling room how many well-rounded, wise, smart adults actually aren’t comfortable feeling their emotions for any real length of time, and it’s usually because they weren’t taught to how to do that. The only way kids become comfortable with their emotions is because they hear the language of emotion, see “feeling behaviors,” and experience the full range of emotion freely. As an example, when parents tell me they try not to get angry around their kids, or have disagreements with their spouse when the kids are around, I’ll ask, “Well, then how are they going to learn how to be angry and be in conflict?” 
  3. Be Emotionally Present. When your child is going through something, stop trying to fix it. Recently, I had a friend confide in me that she was frustrated that her teenage son was staying stuck in negative emotion for far longer than she thought he should. My advice to her was, “Well, he’s just not ready to come out of the weeds yet, so you need to go in there with him. Then, let him lead the way out.” As crazy as that sounds, your child, especially your teenagers, gain resilience when they can figure out how to get themselves out of some sticky situations. Often (not always), what they need more than anything is for you to be there with them, not for them. In other words, let them know all those emotions are normal and okay, and you’ll be here as long as they need to be so they can see themselves out. 
  4. Encourage Autonomy. I can’t stress enough, that when you put too many restrictions on your child and for reasons they can’t find valuable and reasonable, they will rebel. Think about why you are creating the rules you’re creating, or better yet, create rules in tandem with your child. Let them feel like they are in charge of their own outcome because largely, they are. Recently, one of my own teenagers did something that needed a consequence, so I just asked her, “What do you think a good consequence would be for that?” And she said, “To take my phone away?” So, I took her phone away. She hated it, but she also couldn’t deny that she created that scenario for herself. It was a logical consequence that encouraged her own decision-making. That’s autonomy.
  5. Brainstorm How to Move On. In all situations, help your child brainstorm their own consequences by allowing them to go deeper than you normally would. Questions here sound like, “And then what will happen? And then what? And then?” Encourage your child to have deeper thinking by allowing them to move into some deeper emotion around whatever is bothering them. Allow them to “come to” why they feel the way they do by giving them the physical space and emotional acceptance to brainstorm their own issue. I had a friend tell me recently that she wasn’t sure how to approach a difficult situation with her own child, and I suggested she start with the question, “What did you hear so-and-so say during that conversation? And then? And then?” Have them go continue until they find a deeper, more meaningful end. 

Emotional intelligence is so important; our kids depend on our ability to also be emotionally intelligent. Use these steps to help your child understand and appreciate their emotions.

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan
Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer is a mom of twins who are sweet as sugar, but just hit that tween stage so all bets are off. Her youngest is...a joy. Let's just stop there. Most days you can find her in her office seeing clients, doing laundry, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or catching up on the latest episode of Real Housewives of (Insert City Here), Walking Dead or This Is Us. She is a tree-hugging country girl from West Texas who reads, writes, and teaches about human development and families as a hobby and profession. You can read more from Jennifer at her therapy blog, ichoosechange.com

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