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Be Smart With Your Children’s Feelings

By Mark Brandenburg

All of you have heard about how important it is to "honor your children's feelings." While this seems like a worthy endeavor, it's a fairly vague notion and can easily be dismissed, especially when your child is crying or whining.

But If we look at the benefits of paying close attention to your children's feelings, it may become an idea that has a great deal of merit.

Raising children with emotional intelligence
We'd all like to raise kids who are well-adjusted, happy, and successful. How can we improve our chances of raising kids who have these qualities?

One place to start is to acknowledge the growing body of evidence which indicates that a person's "emotional intelligence" is of great importance. It's becoming clear that having a high emotional intelligence is a great predictor of job success as well as personal success.

Emotional intelligence measures qualities like awareness of your own feelings, the ability to empathize with other people, listening skills, etc. Once we recognize the importance of these qualities, we can ask how parents can help to foster these qualities in their children.

Stop trying to mold and shape
The first step in fostering emotional intelligence in your children is to make a fundamental shift in your view of parenting. Many parents see their role as someone who responds to their children's bad behavior and attempts to "mold" them according to certain ideals. Not only can this be ineffective, it can actually increase the "bad" behavior by giving it extra attention.

A different way of parenting is to commit yourself to helping your children become more connected to their own emotions and to their families. It recognizes that your children will be having intense emotional experiences almost every day of their life. It calls for you to assist your kids in learning how to manage these powerful emotions and to model this behavior yourself.

It begins in your home every day. It begins when you stop dismissing your kids' feelings by saying things like, "Come on, it's ok, don't cry," or "You should want to go to your piano lesson."

It's very difficult to see your kids being sad or angry. But when you deny the validity of their feelings, you further disconnect your kids from being able to identify and deal with those feelings. In other words, you lower their emotional intelligence.

Foster emotional intelligence
To raise the emotional intelligence of your kids, there are a number of things you can do.

Start making it a habit to identify your own feelings as well as the feelings of others. Try not to label people. Instead of saying, "He was a real jerk," you could say, "He seemed very angry."

Stop trying to cheer up your kids when they're upset. They need to know their feelings are being acknowledged and need to know you're there to listen and understand.

Do all that you can to keep your own emotional life balanced so that you can be there for your kids. If you're overwhelmed or off balance, you cannot be a source of emotional support for your child.

Be a great listener. When your child has something to say, try to drop what you're doing and focus completely on what they're saying. Skillful reflection back of what they've said to you will show them they've been heard; this is a great help to kids wrestling with intense feelings.

Help your kids identify what they're feeling by being specific with your questions. It's often helpful to ask something like, "Are you feeling sad?" or "Are you feeling angry?" Pay attention to your children's response to your questions or comments about their feelings. Your goal is to help your child process their feelings and to work through them, not to fix anything or to tell them if they got it "right."

When they’re at their worst
One of the most difficult things about being a parent is being with children when they aren't at their best. Whining and crying from children seems to bring out the worst in most parents.

The great irony of this is that the more parents encourage their kids to "get over" whatever emotional difficulties they're having at the time, the more of these emotional difficulties will crop up. Kids who don't feel "heard" emotionally tend to either shut down or to get louder. Neither of these seems like a very good choice.

Our kids would live in a happier, healthier world if they were raised in an environment in which their feelings were honored. When parents learn the secrets of creating that environment, they'll be an important part of that process.

© Mark Brandenburg

See our article: Top Ten Ways to Raise Emotionally Intelligent Kids

NFO contributing author Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, is the author of
25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers and is a personal coach to parents. Read more about Mark.


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"The media have become the mainstream culture in children's lives. Parents have become the alternative. Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to it."
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