Emotional intelligence – or E.Q. – is a measure of “people smarts.” It involves knowing one’s own feelings and accepting them AND understanding and accepting the feelings of others. People with high E.Q. have better social skills, treatment better emotional health, help better physical health and better functioning. Kids with high E.Q. have less behavioral problems and better academic performance. Adults with high E.Q. have more successful relationships and more success at work.
People are born with a certain amount of E.Q. – some kids seem to have a natural empathy for others while some kids are more tuned into their own world. However, stomach parents can help their kids raise their E.Q. no matter what the starting point.
How can Parents Help Their Child Develop E.Q.?
Although babies have a way of looking dumb (after all, they often lie around staring into space!), they are actually mean learning machines. Your emotional climate is immediately communicated to the baby through the tone of your voice, the quality of your touch and your facial expression. Your baby registers all this and studies you carefully. Are you tense or relaxed? Warm or distant? Focused or distracted? Your baby is not only watching you, but also mimicking you. You are teaching the baby how to emote.
Although the baby can’t understand individual words and sentences, she certainly understands your emotional tone. If you sound irritated, annoyed or furious, your baby knows you are upset and things are not O.K. If you sound calm and pleased, the baby knows that all is well. Similarly, when you talk to a newborn, she can get some meaning just from your communication style.
By tuning into your baby’s changing feelings, you can raise his E.Q. Let’s say that the baby is crying, clearing uncomfortable. You suspect it has to do with digestive problems. Some parents might pat the upset infant on the back, saying something like “there, there; you’ll feel better soon.” Suppose you had a horrible day at the office. You come home and tell your spouse about it. You’re spouse pats you on the back and says, “there, there; you’ll feel better soon.” How would you feel? Discounted probably. Unseen, unheard, unsupported – despite the fact that your partner is clearly trying to console you.
Name and Accept Feelings
Our natural approach to negative feelings is to try and talk others out of them. (See Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for a full discussion of techniques promoting emotional intelligence.) However, what is needed is an ability to WELCOME and ACCEPT negative feelings WITHOUT JUDGEMENT. The parent’s ability to consistently do this is what helps a child develop higher E.Q.
Therefore, a parent might say to a crying infant, “You’re not happy right now, are you? Maybe your tummy is hurting.” To a smiling baby, a parent can acknowledge, “My goodness, you look happy this morning!” To a fussy baby, the parent might comment, “Are you starting to feel grumpy now? Are you ready for your nap?” To an older baby who is trying to get into everything, “You are very curious! You really want to see what is in that garbage can!”
This step of just naming and accepting what the child is feeling right now should precede any other intervention. Then the parent can continue with “regular parenting.” For example, if a baby shakes his head “no” when a spoon full of food is being offered to him, the parent could say something like, “You don’t want your sweet potatoes?” and then follow up with “Please try just a little bite” or any other intervention the parent wants to use. The first sentence – the one that acknowledges what the baby is feeling right now, is the one that builds E.Q.
From Infancy to Adulthood
This basic strategy for increasing E.Q. can be used from the first days of a child’s life and should be used for the rest of his life. Acknowledging feelings not only builds E.Q., but it also creates powerful bonds between people. Want to have a great relationship with your kids? Name their feelings before you say anything else.