Understanding Emotional Intelligence as it Relates to My Child
Understanding Emotional Intelligence as it Relates to My Child
As adults we understand that when emotions are ignited we do and say things we typically would not do. As we have observed with children, this happens on a continual basis.
Why is there this broad difference between the emotional self-regulation of an adult and that of a child? Well in large part it comes down to emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence can be defined as the ability to manage one’s expression and experience of emotions. As children develop, by age four they begin using strategies to minimize disturbing external stimuli, such as covering their eyes when scared or plugging their ears if there is a loud noise.
Complex strategies for emotional self-regulation aren’t consistently used until around age 10. The strategies, while complex, can be placed in two simple categories: children who attempt to solve the problem and children who attempt to tolerate the emotion.
If a child believes they can make a change to address the problem, they initiate problem-focused coping strategies by first identifying the issue and making a plan for resolving it. If the child determines that the problem cannot be solved, they initiate emotion-focused coping strategies working to control and tolerate the distress.
These strategies are all part of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is comprised of awareness, understanding, and one’s ability to manage and express emotions.
Globally, academic achievement has been the main focus in childhood, while emotional regulation has been virtually ignored. This strategy goes directly against current research, which suggests that emotional intelligence is two times as strong of a predictor as IQ for later success in adulthood.
Self-control is an essential component of emotional intelligence and is important in predicting achievement in adolescence. When children are able to inhibit impulses (many times driven by emotions) and navigate past distractions, they are then able to participate in more prosocial behaviors and be successful towards their goals.
One very insightful longitudinal study tested primary school-aged children on self-control. The study then followed up with these same children in their 30s. The study concluded that self-control predicted success better than socioeconomic status, family environment and most notably, IQ. The children who exhibited high levels of self-control at the onset of the study were found in adulthood to be healthier, wealthier, and were less likely to have trouble with alcohol or have criminal records.
The Purpose of Feelings
Awareness and understanding of emotions is the first piece of emotional intelligence. We must understand and accept our emotions before we can be expected to control and explain our emotions. Emotions are far from an inconvenience, but rather an essential part of our biological evolution that serves a grand purpose. The Discrete Theory of Emotions maintains that each of our primary emotions have evolved over time to serve a specific purpose and in turn drive our behavior.
Sadness, for example, is an emotion that is very capable of slowing us down, both mentally and physically. This then allows us the chance to reflect on the source of sadness and examine the antecedents of it.
Anger has the opposite effect. Anger speeds things up internally, causing an intense energy that sends blood to all of our extremities. This geared humans up for a fight millions of years ago, but in modern times it has given sustainable energy for a different type of fight. The feeling of anger indicates to us internally that our rights have been violated and aids in protecting ourselves against threats in the future.
All emotions must be respected and reflection upon. This includes the intense emotions we see displayed by our children over some of the most seemingly mundane situations. My two-year old will have a complete meltdown if he is not allowed to be the first to open the door whenever the door bell rings.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a policy statement against using technology as a way to diffuse or pacify negative emotions displayed by a child. It is specifically written as follows, "concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotional regulation."
Essentially, children need to feel these emotions and gain experience tolerating the emotion in order to develop self-control and increase their emotional intelligence maturity.
Parenting and Emotional Intelligence
Caregivers play an essential role in encouraging the development of emotional intelligence. Researchers looked at the pivotal role of caregivers because emotional intelligence does appear to be a very strong predictor of success. Researcher Dr. John Gottman found that the response of a parent to a child's emotion determines how the child's emotional intelligence develops. He outlined the four main ways all parents respond when dealing with their child's emotion.
1) Dismissing Parents--these parents view the child's emotion as unimportant and seek to eliminate the emotion quickly, often through distraction techniques.
2) Disapproving Parents--these parents see negative emotions as something to be stopped, usually using punishment.
3) Laissez-faire Parents--these parents are accepting of the child's emotions, but fall short on helping the child solve problems or even put limits on appropriate behaviors.
4) Emotion Coaching Parents--these parents value the negative emotions exhibited by their child. They are patient with the child's expression of them and utilize these emotional experiences as a bonding and learning opportunity for guidance with labeling the emotions and in-depth problem solving.
Dr. Gottman's found through his research that parents who "emotion coach" inevitably have children who are physically healthier, perform better at school and have better interpersonal relationships with peers. The "emotion coaching" parents followed five basic steps during the study when helping their child deal with the emotion. This can take a great deal of time, therefore parents were only able to follow all five steps 20-25% of the time. Dr. Gottman stated that no parent should feel guilt if all steps cannot be followed all the time and it is unrealistic that a parent could complete this process all the time. The following are Dr. Gottman's emotional coaching steps.
The 5-Steps of Emotion Coaching
Step 1: Be aware of your child's emotions.
Parents should be aware of their own feelings and sensitive to the emotions presented by the child. They do not require their child to display an amped up emotional expression before the child feels their emotions have been acknowledged.
Step 2: View emotions as an opportunity for bonding and teaching.
Children's emotions are not a challenge or inconvenience. They are an excellent opportunity to bond with your child and coach them through a challenging feeling.
Step 3: Listen and validate the child's feelings.
A child needs your full attention when listening to their emotional expression. Reflect and reiterate what you hear, thus telling your child that they have been heard and you understand what they are seeing and experiencing.
Step 4: Label their emotions.
After fully listening, help your child develop an awareness of and vocabulary to connect to the emotional state they are feeling.
Step 5: Help your child problem-solve with limits.
All emotions are acceptable, but every behavior is not acceptable. Aid your child in coping with their emotion by developing problem-solving skills. Limit the expression to appropriate behaviors. This involves helping your child set explicit goals and developing solutions to obtain these goals.
You will find that often times the steps of emotion coaching develop quickly. While other times, these steps may consume a great deal of your time. The key to success is PATIENCE. If the problem is a large one, all 5-steps do not need to be completed at once.
We are currently in the midst of developing an emotional intelligence program for our primary students for the Fall of 2021 called Ninja Mindset. We look forward to continuing to nurture our students emotional intelligence at TBS and we trust with your cooperation, our students will reach their maximum potential both academically and emotionally.
Learning Support Department