During a child’s first five years of life s/he achieves an impressive series of physical, cognitive, and psychological milestones. In a single day, or perhaps even before breakfast, you may proudly observe your child leap ahead on more than one front. Or you might watch in dismay as your child seems emotionally stuck or reverts back to behavior you assumed s/he’d outgrown. These times put our yoga breathing to good use, don’t they? They also serve as reminders that human development isn’t a linear progression. Sometimes our kids lose it. Sometimes we do too.
After ten or twelve slow deep breaths, hopefully we come back to the realization that it’s our job to teach our kids essential life skills. We do our best so they may develop what it takes to be a good friend, a good partner, and some day perhaps, a good parent. Of all the skills our children need, the most beneficial is the ability to manage their emotions in responsible ways.
As Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) puts it, “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
Every day, for the past 16 years, I’ve received teen email showing just how ignorance in the area of EQ, hurts kids and holds them back. For example, these recent questions from my IN box:
Is a friend who is really close to you but whom you don’t trust that well, really a friend?
What do you do if your friend is bullying you and you don’t want to hurt their feelings?
What’s the best thing to do when you get in an argument with your friend?
What do you do when a friend likes you when you two are alone, but when he is in a group he ignores you?
We’ve got to teach them EQ at home so that when they begin forming friendships, and the inevitable conflicts arise, our children will know how to treat themselves and other people with respect. And wouldn’t that be a good thing? So here are three straightforward tips for helping kids (of any age) learn to manage their emotions:
Teach the language of emotions. Create a family culture where talking about feelings is normal. Use a nuanced vocabulary and your kids will have more words to help them identify and express what they’re feeling. Encourage them to take into consideration the feelings of others as they contemplate their next best move.
Be compassionate. You won’t be able to “fix” everything that upsets your child, but you don’t need to in order to be helpful. Sometimes the best you can do is be there and allow your child to experience the full force of the emotion. Going through it, with your supportive, compassionate presence, may help your child develop the resilience and grit s/he needs in life.
Teach Non-violent conflict resolution. Whether your children have sibling issues or conflicts with peers, help them practice resolving conflicts safely and constructively. Brainstorming problem solving strategies provides kids with essential tools for getting along with people.
Parenting with a focus on EQ, makes kids more compassionate. It also makes them more accountable for their choices and helps them develop into thoughtful individuals. And that’s just what we want: Kids who react less and reflect more.