What is Emotional Intelligence?

For many years, medical achievement has been thought of as a purely intellectual phenomenon. Success was equated with scholastic record, with high grades considered as a sign of a hard-working and talented child. High academic achievement was linked with high salaries and high success in every area of life. But recent findings are pointing in an altogether different direction. In fact, many experts have found that the intelligence quotient or IQ is not a good predictor of success in adult life. A new factor looks much more promising as a predictor for adult happiness and successful functioning: Emotional Intelligence, or E.Q.

What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability or skill in identifying, managing and communicating one’s emotions. It also involves the sensitivity and ability to empathize and respond to other people’s feelings and way of thinking. An emotionally intelligent child can effectively recognize and deal with unpleasant feelings, such as anger or sadness, without being frustrated or debilitated. Similarly, a child can recognize when other people are upset or happy, and can adjust his or her behavior accordingly.

An Emotionally Intelligent Child
Emotional intelligence is well illustrated by the concept of frustration tolerance — that is, the ability to patiently bear something unpleasant in return for the promise of achieving a bigger or better outcome. A famous example of frustration tolerance is the marshmallow test. In the test, children are offered one marshmallow to eat immediately, or two marshmallows to eat after a ten minute waiting period. Kids who can wait for the two marshmallow deal tend to grow up to be more emotionally adjusted adults.

Emotional intelligence is also related to the ability to know one’s strength and limitations. Kids who are emotionally intelligent can tolerate attacks to their self-esteem, simply because they can manage the unpleasant emotions that come with failure or disappointment. More importantly, they know and understand that feelings of defeat are simply that — feelings — and do not, in any way, define them as individuals. If they so want to, they can even change negative feelings to positive ones! This ability to manage their internal world well is one of the reasons why emotionally intelligent children are resilient children.

Lastly, emotional intelligence is related to self-regulation: the ability to adjust when circumstances demand some flexibility. A child who is emotionally intelligent, for example, can sense the difference between a natural conversation and a conversation laced with subtle tension. And because they can read between the lines, they are better able to respond to the communication that is being directed upon them.

Fostering Emotional Intelligence in Children
Although kids are born with a certain amount of emotional intelligence in place, this trait can be affected by environmental factors. In other words, what parents say and do can make a positive difference. Parents can name their own feelings on occasion (“I’m starting to feel frustrated…” or “I’m so excited…” or “I’m so disappointed…”). Parents can also regularly name their children’s feelings (“You’re upset with Mommy…” or “I know you’re scared…” or “It’s not fun for you…”). Regularly naming feelings is a big part of fostering emotional intelligence in the family.

How to Raise Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) refers to “people smarts.” A person with high emotional intelligence understands both himself and others. Not only does the person understand people, but he also knows how to make them feel comfortable – he knows how to bring out the best in others. As a result, the person with high E.Q. experiences more success in relationships and at work. Kids with high E.Q. have better relationships at home and at school, with kids and with adults. Moreover, high E.Q.in children and teens is associated with better academic performance, better physical health, better emotional health and better behavior. In adults, high E.Q. is associated with better performance in every area of life.

What can you do to help foster your child’s emotional intelligence? In this article we will discuss ways one can boost their child’s emotional intelligence.

Adapt an Authoritative, Not an Autocratic Parenting Style
Parenting style has a huge influence on children’s emotional intelligence. When parents can guide their children while still being sensitive to their feelings, children have higher E.Q. Authorative parents are warm, but consistent in setting appropriate limits and boundaries. They will use discipline, but not at the expense of respectful communication and care. Their children will learn how to be sensitive to others and they will also learn how to “talk to themselves” compassionately, modelling after their parents. This gentle self-talk becomes a major aspect of their emotional intelligence, a tool they can use to reduce their stress in a healthy way.

Autocratic parents, on the other hand, don’t care that much about the child’s feelings. Instead, they focus on the rules of the household, what is allowed and what is prohibited, what the child may and may not do. Sensitivity to the child’s inner world is missing. In this case, children fail to experience parental empathy and as a result, fail to learn how to soothe their own upset emotions. They may attempt to relieve their discomfort by becoming aggressive, acting out their feelings. Eventually they may turn to comforts outside of themselves such as addictions (to food, alcohol, drugs, etc.). Acting out and addictive behavior reflects lower E.Q.

The more feeling words used by parents and educators, the more sensitive a child becomes to his inner reality. Most of us tend to use few emotion words in our dealings with children, and when we do, we often use the same few tired ones over and over.  It is important that we move beyond “mad,” “sad,” “glad,” and “scared.”  Shades of feeling are most helpful and can be used when describing our own feelings or the child’s feelings. Words like irritated, annoyed, frustrated, anxious, worried, terrified, alarmed, disappointed, hurt, insulted, embarrassed, uncomfortable, unsure, curious, interested, hopeful, concerned, shocked, elated, excited, enthusiastic, let down, abandoned, deserted, mellow, calm, peaceful, relaxed, bored, withdrawn, furious, enraged, frightened, panicked, and proud can be used DAILY to help provide an emotional education in the home or classroom. These are the regular feelings that children have in facing life, stimulated by everyday experiences, dreams, movies and even novels. Identifying a youngster’s emotional reaction and feeding it back to him, helps him to become aware of his inner processing. This information then forms the core of his emotional intelligence, providing an accurate barometer of his response to his world. From this place of inner certainty, a child is well-equipped to navigate life, knowing what he feels, what he is searching for and when he has attained it. His familiarity with the world of feelings allows him to connect accurately and sensitively with others. This prevents him from hurting other people’s feelings with words and further, permits him to achieve great kindness and sensitivity in his interpersonal transactions.

Here are some practical steps you can take to bring feelings into focus:

  1. Respond to your child. From the time your child is a crying infant to the time she is a young adult, be sure to be responsive. This means that you take her communications seriously. If she cries, try to come (instead of making her cry it out.). If she asks for something, try to answer her promptly. If she talks, you listen and respond appropriately. All of this responsiveness builds emotional intelligence because you are giving your youngster valuable relationship feedback. In the opposite scenario, in which a parent either fails to respond or responds only after a long waiting period, the child learns that people tune each other out. This causes the child to shut down. She assumes that her feelings aren’t that important based on lack of parental responsiveness and from this concludes that people’s feelings aren’t that important – the very OPPOSITE of the conclusions made by emotionally intelligent people. Quick responsiveness gives the message that people’s feelings matter. This is a prerequisite concept for emotional intelligence.
  2. Use a FEELING vocabulary. Pepper your daily conversation with “feeling” words. You can name your own feelings. Let your child know that you feel excited or dismayed or discouraged or resentful or whatever. This gives your child the vital information that everyone – including parents – has feelings and an inner life. Some people do this naturally, of course, but many do not. For instance, when a child is making too much noise, a parent may just say something like, “Can you please quiet down?” However, the Emotional Coach would say something like, “I’m starting to feel overwhelmed with all this noise going on. Can you please quiet down?” Similarly, a regular parent might give positive feedback to a child in this way, “I like the way you waited patiently in line with me at the bank today.” An Emotional Coach, on the other hand, might say something like, “I felt very relaxed with you in the bank today because you were waiting so patiently.” In other words, the Emotional Coach looks for opportunities to describe his or her inner experience. It is this description that helps the child begin to build an emotional vocabularly that will open the doors to Emotional Intelligence.
  3. Name your child’s feelings. Children feel feelings all day long but not all parents comment on them. In fact, many parents are more practical, focusing on solutions to problems. For instance, if a child is upset because there are no more of his favorite cookies left in the jar, the typical parent might say, “I’ll pick up some more for you when I go shopping this week.” While that solves the problem, it doesn’t build emotional intelligence. An Emotional Coach might say, “Oh, that’s so disappointing! You really love those cookies! I’ll pick some up for you when I go shopping this week.” The extra few words acknowledging the child’s inner world (“Oh that’s so disappointing”) make all the difference when it comes to building Emotional Intelligence. Similarly, parents often try to get kids to STOP their feelings or at least SHRINK their feelings by saying things like, “Just calm down – it’s not such a big deal” or “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” of “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” The Emotional Coach, on the other hand, accepts all the child’s feelings, giving the child the name for what is going on inside. “I can see how upset you are,” or “You’re really scared about this,” or “It so important to you,” and so on. By accepting all feelings as they are, the Emotional Coach teaches kids not to be afraid of or overwhelmed by feelings. This is a very important part of becoming emotionally intelligent.
  4. Teach your child how to express emotions appropriately. While all feelings are acceptable, all BEHAVIORS are not. It is not O.K. to hit and scream just because you feel angry. It is not O.K. to cry for an hour at the top of your lungs just because you are disappointed. Parents must teach children – by their example and by their interventions – the appropriate behavioral expression of emotions. For instance, parents can teach children to express their anger in a respectful way by saying things like, “When you are mad at your brother for touching your puzzle, just tell him ‘I don’t want you to touch my puzzle. I’m working hard on it and it bothers me when you move the piece around.’ Don’t slap his hand!” Parents will have to use the normal techniques of positive attention, encouragement and discipline to get the lessons across. It is, of course, essential, that parents are respectful themselves in the way they express their upset, fear and disappointment. See “The Relationship Rule” in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details on how to teach the proper way to express negative emotions.
  5. Let them experience failure and disappointment. It’s understandable that parents want to protect their children from disappointment. But know that rescuing children from pain, to the point that they never get to experience life, will backfire in the long run. Children need to know how to bounce back from adversity — resilience muscles need training too! And children won’t know how it is to rebound from disappointment if they aren’t allowed to experience it to begin with. When your child gets a poor mark on a project, don’t rush to the teacher to get the mark raised; instead, use emotional coaching with your child (that is, NAME her feelings). “This mark is so disappointing! You tried really hard and the teacher didn’t appreciate it. That is frustrating!” By naming feelings, you actually help shrink them down to size. Feeling words act as “containers” for feelings. It’s O.K. for the child to be upset, or even to cry. After awhile, she’ll calm down. And this is the important part – learning that calm follows a storm. Everything in life doesn’t need to be perfect. There is such a thing as recovery. “There will be more projects, more chances to get a good grade.” You want to show the child that you yourself aren’t afraid of negative experiences or emotions. This model that life is “survivable” can really help a child cope when the going gets rough.
  6. Expand their social network. Few parents think of other people as possible teaching instruments in promoting emotional intelligence. But kids can learn more from interesting personalities and other people’s life experiences than they can from a classroom lecture. Having to adapt well to different types of people — quiet, assertive, annoying, fun-loving — can teach a child how to regulate their behavior based on the demands of an interaction. The challenges other people go through can also provide insight on how to manage one’s own trials in life. Learning vicariously through the success and failure of other people is a good way to raise a child’s E.Q. So if you can, go ahead and enroll your child in various clubs or organizations. When they’re a bit older, encourage them to volunteer in community service. Send them on mission trips. Let them talk with grandpa or grandma. Every person has a lesson to impart to a child.

Helping Kids Deal with Feelings

Parents sometimes get so caught up in the physical demands of childrearing (getting kids ready for school, providing meals, making sure homework is done, taking them to lessons, getting them into bath and bed), that they can easily forget that there is a whole other side of parenting that is equally important and that must be attended to: the child’s inner world – the world of feelings. Helping children identify and manage their emotions is a critical task for any parent. So much of a child’s behavior is driven by emotions; frustrated children may become aggressive, frightened children may refuse to cooperate at bedtime, socially anxious children may isolate themselves, and so forth. Indeed, young children are prone to react emotionally to every situation rather than think about what they ought to do. Kids of every age are prone to experience periods of overwhelm or insecurity, moodiness or anxiety. Parents can play a major role in helping kids to negotiate the world of upsetting emotions.

How can parents help children deal with their feelings? Consider the following:

Be Open about Your Own Emotions
Kids feel free to explore and express their emotions only to the extent that they feel their family is open to it. So teach by example. If you feel sad, then express to the family that you are sad: “The ending to that movie was so sad that it made me cry!” If you are angry, assertively (that is, politely but firmly) express that you are angry: “I am really upset that you didn’t listen to me!” When you are feeling anxious, say so: “I’m worried about Grandpa. He fell twice last week.”  When children see that their parents are comfortable having and speaking about emotions, they will learn that feelings are just a normal part of the human experience. Parents who tell children to “stop crying” or “there’s nothing to be afraid of” accidentally encourage kids to bottle up their emotions.

Welcome Your Child’s Feelings
Differentiate between behaviors and feelings. You won’t be able to accept all of your child’s behaviors, but you can certainly accept all of his feelings. Let’s say that your youngster is mad at his brother for breaking the tower he was building. The anger is understandable and acceptable. However, punching the brother is completely unacceptable. Anger is a feeling – always acceptable. Punching is a behavior – and behaviors may or may not be acceptable. Is your child whining because he doesn’t like the meal you prepared? Whining is a behavior and one that happens to be unacceptable. Not liking dinner (feeling disappointed or frustrated) is a feeling and is acceptable. Your response can welcome the feeling while correcting the behavior. For instance, “I’m sorry you don’t like tonight’s dinner. I know that you’re disappointed and frustrated – you wanted something else. It is not O.K. to whine like that. Just tell me how you feel in words and I’ll try to help you out.” No matter what your child is feeling, accept the feeling without criticism or correction. This is easy to say but really hard to do. Sometimes your child feels things that you might find frightening. For instance, your child might say things like, “No one likes me” or “I’m so ugly” or “I don’t want to finish my degree. It’s just too hard” Your job in all of these cases is to accept the feelings BEFORE you try to educate the child. “No one likes you? That’s a sad feeling!” “You feel ugly? That’s really hard! “You don’t want to finish your degree? You sound very discouraged.” As the child responds, continue naming feelings as long as possible. Don’t jump in to correct the youngster because that will stop him from trying to share feelings with you in the future. When your kids have angry feelings, teach them the right way to express those feelings. How feelings are expressed is a behavior. Yelling, for example is a behavior, as is talking in a normal tone of voice. Teach kids that yelling, name calling, swearing, throwing, kicking and so on are all unacceptable ways to express the feeling of anger. On the other hand, saying “I’m angry” or “I’m really upset” or “I am so frustrated” are all valid ways to verbally express anger. Teach them to name their feeling and ask for what they want. It is normal for both parents and children to feel frustrated. You can certainly name, accept and validate your child’s upset and frustration. You cannot, however, accept his abusive behavior.

Use Pictures to Help Your Child Identify Feelings
When young children have difficulty articulating what they are going through, it’s best to turn to non-verbal aids. One such aid is a set of pictures depicting the different kinds of emotions. Instead of asking children to tell you how they feel, encourage kids to point at the card that illustrates the emotion they are going through. Parents can also use the cards as a prompt when trying to figure out what their child is feeling. Some parents put a “feeling wheel” on the refrigerator where a child can easily see it and use it to describe what he is experiencing.

Make it a Habit to Ask Children How They Feel
Very few parents take the effort to deliberately help their kids to identify what they are feeling at a given point in time. But there are many occasions when a focus on feelings can help increase a child’s emotional intelligence. Occasions when kids are happy, such as when a playmate comes over, can be an opportunity to teach kids about positive emotions. It looked like you guys were having a blast? Was it fun having Steve over?” Occasions that are sad, such as the death of a pet, can be opportunities to instruct about negative emotions. “I can’t believe that Fluffy died! I feel so sad. How about you? How are you doing?” By inviting open discussion of feelings you make it easy for your children to access their own and others emotions and become emotionally intelligent.

Ways to Show Love

Although parents love their kids, they don’t always feel the love in a parenting moment. In fact, parents often feel irritation, upset, fear and distress in the midst of parenting. However, when the kids are asleep in bed, parents look at their angelic faces and feel a surge of affection and adoration. They really love them!

It is crucial for a child’s healthy development that he or she actually feels loved. It’s not enough that parents love their children – they have to successfully convey this love in order for the kids to benefit from it.

What are some effective ways for parents to show love and affection to their children? Consider these five tips:

Attend to Basic Needs
Meeting a child’s basic needs doesn’t in and of itself, make a child feel loved. However, neglecting such needs is a quick way to make a child feel unloved. Basic needs include things like keeping a tidy house (tidy enough – not compulsively tidy), serving good-tasting and nutritious meals, and providing appropriate, attractive and clean clothing). In order to meet the child’s needs, the CHILD needs to feel that the house is tidy enough, the food is good enough and the clothing is suitable and available. It’s usually easy enough to attend to a child’s basic needs in this way, but if there is some difficulty, don’t underestimate its potential impact. Failure to meet basic needs can leave life-long scars.

Provide a Home Where Love Abounds
Home is a place for the family to create positive memories — so make sure your home is conducive to happy ones! Minimize criticism and anger. Try to parent without raising your voice (read Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). Give LOTS of positive feedback, use humor to lighten things up, listen empathically, offer treats and privileges generously and use positive methods of discipline. Take parenting courses in person or on-line to give yourself extra skills and options.

Be Generous With the Hugs and Kisses
Words are powerful, but so are non-verbal ways of expressing love and affection. So don’t be shy! Give your children a hug when they wake up, as they leave for school, upon coming home and as they get ready for bed. Kiss them when they are hurt, sick, happy or sad. Hugs and kisses are simple and free ways of communicating that you care. Pats, tickles and gentle touch are good at any time – as long as the child enjoys it. If the child is laughing when be tickled but saying “stop!” then the parent should stop immediately. Similarly, if the child finds touch pleasant – go for it, but if the child says “I don’t like it” then the parent has to refrain from this way of conveying love. There’s lots of other ways to give this message over.

Love Your Children Unconditionally
Newsflash: parenting can be a rocky terrain sometimes. There will be times when your children will hurt you, disappoint you, anger you and/or make you miserable. Take heart, mistakes and rebellion are parts of growing up. From bad choices, kids can become better people. What is important is that parents remain consistent in showing their love and affection. Remember, these are also the times when your kids need you the most. Be patient, go slowly, don’t try to educate your child when you are feeling very upset, shocked or enraged – wait until you’re calm enough to provide truly helpful guidance. This is a powerful way of showing love and one that your grownup child will recall forever with affection and appreciation.

Show Encouragement
Take an interest in what your child is doing: hobbies, talents, even weaknesses and problem areas. Helping a kid develop skills, address problems and experience success, are all signs of loving and caring. We’ve all read those biographies of outstanding persons in which they write, “my mother always believed in me, ” or “my father taught me everything I know” and so on. Whether it means hiring a tutor, signing up for classes, bringing books home from the library, or helping your child personally, every act of parental involvement is an act of love.

Work On Yourself and Your Marriage
Parents show love to their children by becoming the best they can be. When a child sees that a parent has an anger problem, drinking problem, weight problem, depression problem or any other personal challenge, AND sees that the parent works hard to overcome and heal the problem, the child experiences this as a form of caring. The opposite situation, in which a parent has an addiction issue, anger issue etc., and DOESN’T work hard to overcome it, is experienced as a form of neglect by the child. The child feels as if the parent doesn’t care enough about him or her in order to address serious challenges. The same dynamic is true of the parent’s marriage. When parents have a troubled marriage and DON’T go to marriage counseling or otherwise take steps to improve the situation, the child feels like the parents don’t care enough to make the home a better place. On the other hand, when parents work hard to overcome their relationship difficulties, children experience their effort as an act of love for the family.

Keeping Your Child Healthy

Parents are responsible for their children’s well-being. This means that they must take steps to prevent, assess and treat health conditions. This can sometimes be frightening for parents, especially when a child is dealing with real health issues.

If you are a parent responsible for keeping your child healthy, consider the following tips:

Do What is Normal and Reasonable
Taking care of a child’s health does not mean putting him in a protective bubble where no germs, illness or accidents can occur. Life happens and parents don’t have complete control over circumstances that can affect their child. In fact, it is not a parent’s job to ensure that the child never experiences illness or pain, because this task is just not possible. What IS possible, however, is feeding the child a decent diet that provides necessary elements of nutrition, seeing that the child gets fresh air and exercise, dressing the child appropriately for various weather conditions and taking the child to his doctor for routine wellness checkups. Other than that, parents can and should allow their child to do what other kids in the neighborhood do: go swimming, have occasional junk food, skip bath night once in awhile, or even go outdoors for a short time despite having a very minor fever. In other words, there is no need to be hypervigilant. Kids are not that fragile. A germ or two might, according to some opinions, actually help build the immune system. People in this school of thought believe that over-protection actually makes the child more vulnerable to disease and accidents. Use common sense. This isn’t an invitation to send the child out into the cold night in nothing but his pajamas! However, it IS an invitation not to get hysterical if the child refuses to wear a scarf on a cool day. Do your best but be normal. Excessive fear on your part may cause the child to become fearful as well. Interestingly, fear does NOT prevent illness and if anything, may actually weaken the immune system.

Develop Healthy Routines
Although there is no need to be “germ phobic,” you can certainly help minimize contagious conditions like colds, flus and viruses in your home. Teach your kids basic hygiene. For instance, show them how to sneeze onto their sleeve rather than into their hand. When someone is sick, make sure that person has his or her own towel and cup. Even if you don’t normally use antibacterial products, this may be the time to do so. Consider spraying the living area with a mixture of essential oils that prevent germs from spreading (speak to an aromatherapist to learn how to do this). Teach your kids to wash their hands before eating, especially if they’ve been playing outside. Teach kids to brush their teeth twice daily. Help children get the right amount of sleep each night.

Do Not Give Special Attention to Sick Children
Make sure you give special attention to your healthy child! Being sick should not earn extra quality time or special privileges. You don’t want your child to learn that there is a payoff for being ill because this can lead to an increase in psychosomatic illness as well as “pretend” illness. A child who must stay home from school due to illness should NOT receive a free play day filled with treats and fun activities. Rather, he or she should be encouraged to rest and recover. Let school be more interesting than a day at home. Instead of encouraging children to get sick in order to get a day off of school every once in awhile, just offer them “mental health” days a couple of times a year – days when they are perfectly healthy and are taken out of school for quality time. Doing this one one or two days a year teaches children that it is possible to manage stress levels WITHOUT getting sick to do so.

Attend to Your Own Fears and Anxieties
If you find that you get very worried every time you or a family member has a bump, cough, pain or other physical distress, seek professional help. The right kind of help can reduce or even eliminate this kind of fear and help you enjoy life much more. Children get all sorts of symptoms, ranging from inconsequential to serious. You and your child will both cope better if you are able to maintain a calm state of mind. Many people have serious fears about illness, fearing that every minor symptom (in themselves or in someone close to them) indicates a deathly illness. This condition is called hypochondriosis. It can be treated by a mental health professional.

Effective Family Meetings

Utilizing meetings for planning, negotiating and problem-solving is a well-established corporate practice. These days, however, the practice is also being touted as a critical tool for family life. And because family members are busy people — occupied with work, school, personal, social and communal activities — deliberately setting a time and date to discuss important family matters can be a practical way to ensure that regular communication does take place.

Here are some simple tips on how to run effective family meetings:

Include Everyone
Although everyone doesn’t have to attend the entire family meeting, everyone should have the opportunity to be present at different points. For instance, if dinner meals are being discussed, the whole family should be invited in order to give their input on a matter that will affect each of them. However, when that matter is resolved, some of the younger kids might be excused from the meeting while parents discuss curfew with a couple teenagers. Then, the teenagers may be excused, while husband and wife discuss some issues concerning the family budget. The concept of the meeting is to offer a regular forum in which any issue can be discussed and dealt with. Not all family members have to be present at the entire meeting, but anyone who is directly affected by an issue is invited to be part of that particular discussion.

Discuss Problems, but Share the Good Stuff Too!
Family meetings are excellent venues to discuss issues (“Let’s plan our outing for the long weekend”), air grievances (“I can never find a clean glass in the cupboard”), and resolve difficulties (“He always wakes me up in the night with his crying”). They can also be a forum for progress reports and celebrations (“I just want to bring to everyone’s attention that Jason has been doing a wonderful job of organizing the recycle materials every week”) as well a venue for encouragement and emotional support (“It’s frustrating when you have to spend so much time on homework and there seems to be so little time for relaxation.”) Maintaining a balance of pleasant and difficult topics can help family members look forward to meetings. On the other hand, using the time to discuss only problems and difficult issues usually leads to a reluctance to show up after awhile.

Give Everyone a Chance to Speak
It’s a family meeting, not a state-of-the-nation address, so don’t let one person hog the spotlight. Give each child time to share what he or she feels like sharing by asking each one individually “is there anything that you’d like to talk about today?” Remember: no matter how simple a disclosure may be, the opportunity to communicate openly with loved ones is a priceless thing. Once your child is talking, try to sit back and listen. A helpful rule at family meetings is that a person is allowed to present an issue in a certain time period (i.e. 5 minutes maximum) and during that time period, no one is allowed to talk, interrupt, ask questions or do anything other than sit back and listen. After the person is finished presenting their issue, they can take questions for a few more minutes and then the discussion begins.

Follow Rules of Communication
Follow some simple rules to help keep the meeting productive and emotionally safe. For instance, you might stipulate: no swearing, no bad language, no raised voices, no name-calling (in other words, no hurting people’s feelings); be brief, say the problem only one time; give practical ideas (not ideas that can’t be implemented).

Follow a Process for Problem Resolution
After an issue is raised, ask each member of the family, one at a time, to make a comment or suggestion. The person with the problem can also be invited to make suggestions about how it can be solved. After all suggestions have been brought forward, the person with the problem can ask for time to think about the ideas or can pick the idea that is most pleasing right now. If no one can think of solutions to a problem, you can have a list of helpful resources (family doctor, grandparent, trusted family friend or relative, therapist, spiritual advisor) to whom the problem can be described in order to get further input and ideas as to how it might be solved.

Never Let a Meeting End without Some Form of Resolution
This is the family meeting equivalent of “never let the sun set on an argument.” The last thing that you want is to create tension in the family because a meeting was used for bashing, but not healing. If an issue has been raised but it can’t be completely resolved within the time period of the meeting, then at least outline the next steps that the family will take. You may even set another family meeting to discuss the issue, to give it the proper attention and focus.

Lastly, Don’t Have Too Many Meetings!
Have you ever heard of the term “meeting paralysis”? In companies, this is the situation when nothing gets done because people would rather discuss things than fix them! Family meetings are invaluable, but don’t get stuck with just talking and rehashing issues. Solve problems and support each other. It’s living the closeness that comes after the discussion that makes family meetings so worthwhile.

Parents Disagree about Discipline

It is common for any two people from different family backgrounds to have experienced their own discipline differently and therefore to have different thoughts and feelings about discipline. For example, one person may come from a home where discipline was harsh. He might react to that experience by repeating it with his own kids, feeling that although it was painful, the results were obviously successful. Or, he might react to it by vowing never to discipline his children at all. This person’s parenting partner might have come from a home where discipline was appropriately balanced with warmth and love. The partner might feel comfortable copying this “authoratative parenting style” in the family. These two parents may have trouble working together; for instance, the harsh-history parent may have no tolerance for any kind of discipline of his children, no matter how mild, reasonable, or even necessary, it might be.

The Cost of Fighting About It
The trouble is, that when parents fight about discipline, children know it and feel it. The result is often “triangulation” in the family – a situation in which the child and more lenient or more reasonable parent form an alliance against the “mean,” stricter parent. The so-called “mean,” stricter parent may actually be the healthier parent, the one who is using reasonable discipline methods. However, when pitted against a no-discipline parent, the perceived “mean” one may lose the child’s affection. In other cases, the “mean” parent really is unreasonably strict and harsh. In general, kids don’t like to be disciplined and therefore, whichever parent does it less is likely to be favored by them. This can then rob the so-called “mean” parent of ALL parental power. The nice-parent-child team discredits the other parent to the point where the child may virtually lose one parent as a life resource. While the lenient parent might be trying to protect the child from the stricter or even harsher parent, he or she may accidentally end up robbing the child of the other parent altogether. When the situation leads to divorce (see below), the child may even lose his home. Except in the case of true abuse, trying to save the child from the other parent is harmful for the child.

In addition to the effect of triangulation on the child, there is an obvious effect on the marriage. No parent likes to be disempowered by the other. Resentment builds, sometimes to the point where divorce ensues. Even if the marriage lasts, there is often bitter animosity due to triangulation.

However, triangulation isn’t the only problem that can arise out of fights about discipline. Even if the child is close to both parents equally (or distant from them both equally), the fighting itself is an intense stress in the home. Children are always troubled and sometimes even traumatized by parental conflict. They often feel deep sadness and fear – sometimes for safety of themselves or their parents, and sometimes for the sustainability of the family unit. When the subject matter of the conflict is THEM (as it is when the subject is discipline), they may feel guilty in addition to being fearful or sad. When parents fight a lot, children can become depressed and troubled in many ways. Their physical health, mental health and ability to function may all be affected. For instance, many children get stress-related headaches, stomach aches, rashes and other physical symptoms when their parents argue about discipline. They can get depressed and/or anxious and develop an array of nervous habits and acting-out types of behaviors (such as being more argumentative themselves). Their schoolwork can suffer as well.

How Not to Fight about it
When parents have radically different views of what should happen in discipline, they need to work to get more on the same page. It could be that each parent has to move a little away from his or her own position and a little closer to the partner’s position. There are different ways for this to happen.

Parents can take a parenting course together. Learning philosophies and strategies from an objective outsider is often far easier than taking instruction from one’s spouse. While this outsider may be a parenting insructor in a group setting, it can also be a private practitioner (such as a family therapist, psychologist or other mental health professional). Choose a professional who has a special expertise in parenting in order to get the most helpful guidance. Parents can also read and discuss a parenting book together (have a book-club a deux) or look up questions and answers on-line together.

Another strategy to attain a meeting of the minds on the subject of discipline, is to refrain from criticizing your partner’s parenting EVER. If you don’t like what your spouse is doing, approach him or her with curiosity and a desire to understand rather than with complaint and criticism. For instance, suppose your spouse gave your son a negative consequence on Monday for failing to come home by his curfew (“you’ve lost your cell phone for a week…”). On Tuesday, you see that your spouse has returned your son’s cell phone to him already, clearly failing to follow through with discipline. Avoid approaching your spouse in a confrontational manner – “If you never carry through, he’ll never learn”…etc. Instead, you ASK your spouse what made him or her change his mind. Ask this with genuine curiousity, not with bitter sarcasm. Greet the answer with Emotional Coaching (empathic listening and naming of feelings). For example, imagine that your spouse explains, “I felt bad for him. He really needs that phone.” You might respond with, “You’re such a good mom/dad – you really care about him! I’m just wondering how we’re going to help him come home on time – I get so worried when he stays out past his curfew – I really want us to be able to get this through to him. What do you think we should do about it?”  If every disciplinary difference of opinion is handled in a caring, respectful manner, the parents will be able to negotiate their differences and find ways to do what’s best for the kids – eventually.

Finally, parents who are too harsh or too lenient in their discipline styles tend to love their children and are trying to do what they think is best for the child. Because of this, most people can see the wisdom of applying the 80-20 Rule. The 80-20 Rule is the ideal good-feeling to bad-feeling ratio of parenting communications to children. Laughter, praise, gifts, physical affection, empathy, and any other good-feeling communication needs to happen 4 times for every 1 bad-feeling communication like giving an instruction, correction, complaint, threat of punishment, actual punishment and so on. Moreover, the bad-feeling communications need to be only mildy-bad-feeling. Otherwise, they can completely wipe out the positive effects of the good-feeling communications, no matter how many there might have been. Full details on the 80-20 Rule are available in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Spanking

Is spanking an effective tool in (pardon the pun!) child-rearing? It’s seems that the jury is still out on the subject. There are traditionalists who think that current positive parenting strategies are too soft and permissive, causing children to become spoiled or out of control. And there are others (including most family service agencies) who consider spanking to be a form of child abuse. Wherever you stand on the corporal punishment debate, one thing is worth noting: current research suggests that spanking isn’t at all helpful.

The following are some of the reasons why spanking isn’t helpful:

The “Don’t Get Caught” Mentality
The level of moral reasoning in spanking is shallow: don’t misbehave so you don’t get hurt. A child can end up thinking then that it’s okay to misbehave, just don’t get caught. Instead of helping children develop a moral compass, spanking encourages lying, deceit and sneaking around. True change will only happen if children understand deep down that a behavior is wrong, and why it is wrong. Unfortunately, spanking does not promote this insight. The only message children get in spanking is the confusing “I only hurt you because I love you.”

The Positive Parenting Climate
A lot of what made spanking effective generations back is the culture. Back then, spanking was an accepted and acceptable form of education. Children themselves also took it as part of a normal parenting routine. But today, so many professionals have spoken out against spanking that it is no longer considered an acceptable parenting strategy. Children now consider being hit equal to being physically assaulted and are liable to report the crime to a teacher, guidance counselor, or child abuse hotline. A child who gets spanked is more likely to develop hostile feelings toward the parent than to graciously accept the punishment and move on.

An Encouragement to Seek Revenge
Many studies have found links between corporal punishment and increased aggression in children. Kids who are spanked are more likely to act out power and anger issues by throwing tantrums or being aggressive to others; as they grow older, those with a history of being spanked have higher rates of bullying and vandalism. Many theories have been put forward to explain this link. Some experts believe that it’s simply modeling; kids follow what they see their parents do (i.e. use physical strength to gain compliance, attain power or achieve other goals). Others think that children tend to internalize the humiliation and pain that comes with spanking, and express their feelings in indirect ways.

A Form of Sexual Abuse
Some adults remember being spanked as being sexually stimulating. Certainly when a father pulls down his daughter’s panties to swat her behind, the child is able to feel not only pain, but also violation. Unfortunately, children who are used to being maltreated sometimes have trouble developing normal boundaries in adulthood. As a result, they may find themselves with adult partners who are abusive. When children are regularly hit in childhood they form an equation in their psyches that looks like “being hurt can go together with being loved.” This can give them a tolerance for mistreatment throughout life (although psychotherapy can be helpful). Since there are excellent forms of discipline that do not carry the risks of spanking, there is no reason to resort to this tool nowadays. The choice is not between spanking and no-discipline but rather between spanking and other strong and effective forms of discipline.

Using Negative Consequences Effectively

Every Saturday is your child’s schedule to wash the dishes. But like many kids, he hates the chore. So every Saturday, there’s a slimy pile-up in the sink just begging to be cleaned. You decide to issue consequences for ignoring responsibility. The rule goes: until all the dirty dishes from lunch are washed, the whole family will have to forgo dinner (after all, there won’t be any clean plates!). You thought that if everyone had to go hungry, the pressure would motivate your youngster to do his job.

Unfortunately for you, this child is not so easily intimidated. Not only does he NOT wash the dishes, but he actually goes to the cupboard to pull out a clean one and makes himself his own dinner!

What happened?

In theory, the consequence to the misbehavior was perfect. You didn’t nag, yell or criticize.The consequence made it clear that you are instilling the rule in order for the whole family to be able to eat together on time. And the consequence was even logically related to the behavior you want to correct. It should have worked!

Perhaps there are other things missing from the equation, which is why your child doesn’t accept the consequence. Consider the following possibilities:

You Have Failed to Establish Authority
Parental authority plays a huge role in getting kids to accept consequences. If you’re inconsistent in setting rules and consequences, there’s a good chance that your child will not take you seriously. You may, for example, have let him off the hook before despite his misbehavior. Having done so would have convinced him that he doesn’t have to worry about actually receiving a punishment – in his eyes you are “all talk and no action.” Or you are strict on him, but lax on siblings. To ensure that setting consequences work, make sure that you are serious about consequences and will implement them.

Your Child is Misbehaving — Again
Here’s a thought: what if your child’s refusal to accept the consequence is also misbehavior? Remember, misbehavior has goals, and your child may be refusing to do the dishes and refusing to accept your consequences for the same reason. Find out what the reason is; perhaps your child is seeking negative attention, or going for revenge. Have you been too angry or too punitive lately? That tends to backfire, leading to more misbehavior. What is going on in your relationship with him? What are the stresses in the household? Is he experiencing stress at school or in relationships? When you address the need behind misbehavior, you’ll see less misbheavior. Moreover, your rules and consequences will work more effectively.

The Consequence Doesn’t Really Affect Him
For consequences to work, they must affect your child in a significant way. While they’re not supposed to bring pain,they must at least provide an inconvenience, or serve as a roadblock for something that the child wants. In the case above, the consequence was likely ineffective because the child knew there were other clean dishes to eat from! Choose consequences carefully, making sure that they are real deterrents. Consequences do not need to be “logical” in order to be effective – they need to be “the right priced ticket.” That is, they need to motivate the child to comply. You can remove possessions and privileges (for up to 24 hours for a child and up to 48 hours for a teen). Or, you can assign extra work (this only works once your child has learned to accept punishments). Study up on your discipline strategies and talk with other parents about effective negative consequences they have discovered.

Your Child Doesn’t See the Purpose of the Consequences
Consequences are there to teach the child the logical link between misbehavior and an unwanted event. Hence, some discussion must come alongside the implementation of the consequence. Perhaps your child just doesn’t appreciate why the punishment is needed. If you can explain the rationale of using a negative consequence, then he or she may be more likely to accept it. Indeed, any respectful communication about the misbehavior can help. In this case, explain to the child that everyone in a family has to help out. Explain how it makes you feel when you’re the only one doing everything. Explain how unfair it would be if everyone except this particular child had various household responsibilities. Explaining the issues with the child’s behavior, can help the child realize that he should cooperate and also help him realize that a deterrant for failure to cooperate makes sense because it is meant  to help him succeed in cooperating.

Strategies for Dealing with Misbehavior

All kids misbehave from time to time. Parents need to know how to handle misbehavior WITHOUT harming their child. Frequent anger, excessive criticism, over-punishment and other harsh interventions are strategies that are likely to cause more misbehavior rather than less. Moreover, these strategies also cause various emotional difficulties in children and can, when intense enough, harm the parent-child relationship. Fortunately, parents can learn a set of tools that will help them correct their kids in positive ways. With these tolls, parents will find themselves taking firm but quiet control, finding ways to respectfully teach their kids right from wrong.

If your child ever misbehaves, consider the following tips:

Reasons for Misbehavior
Your child may misbehave for all kinds of reasons. Some misbehavior is actually accidental – like when a child just isn’t paying attention (i.e. when he runs around the house and breaks something). Or, he might be experimenting and testing the limits of what he can get away with. Maybe he seeks the intense attention his parents give to his negative behavior. Or maybe there’s a physiological reason for the misbehavior such as fatigue, hunger or illness – or a biologically based mental health condition like ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, etc. Your child (usually!) isn’t an evil person who consciously intends to make your life hard. There’s generally a reason for his or her misbehavior.

Attend to and Reinforce Desirable Behaviors
The CLeaR method is one super-charged way that you can reinforce positive behavior; it is described in full in Sarah Chana Radcliffe’s book, Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice. Use of the CLeaR Method involves 3 steps: comment, label and (sometimes) reward. An example using the CLeaR Method would be this scenario of a child who has a bad habit of climbing on counters to help himself to cookies. One day, the child remembers to ASK for a cookie, to which the parent responds“You asked me for a cookie instead of trying to climb on the counter.” (Comment), “That’s very mature of you!” (Label), “Yes, go ahead and take a cookie.” (Reward). The CLeaR Method requires forethought and actual planning, but it is truly effective when used consistently and correctly. With this method, your child learns to associate appropriate behavior with positive feelings, causing him to become more likely to do the “right” thing in the future.

Reward charts can also be used to encourage desirable behaviors. These are more fun and more successful than using tools like criticism, correction and punishment to address the negative behavior. For instance, instead of yelling at a child for leaving his shoes in the hallway, you can put up a star chart in front of the shoe cupboard and ask the child to give himself a star whenever he puts his shoes away properly. When he accumulates a certain number of stars, he gets a small prize.

Even praise, smiles and other simple signs of pleasure applied to DESIRABLE behaviors are preferable to negative feedback for undesirable behaviors. Nonetheless, positive strategies alone do not always eradicate misbehavior. See below for how to use discipline constructively when necessary.

Follow the 80-20 Rule (90-10 for teens)
In the 80-20 rule, 80% of communications between parent and child must be positive, while only 20% can be negative. Negative communications include criticism of any kind, behavior tips, and rebuke. For teens the ratio is 90%-10% as teens become less tolerant of criticism. Too much negative interaction with your child can lead to rebelliousness and damage the parent-child relationship. The 80-20 rule can dramatically decrease misbehavior while it fosters cooperation. Learn more about The 80-20 Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.

Get in the Habit of using Emotional Coaching
Emotional coaching can be a great tool to help reduce misbehavior. It involves naming a child’s feelings. When your child misbehaves you can begin your intervention by acknowledging the feelings prompting his behavior (i.e. “I know it’s fun to throw rocks.” or “I know you want to have a cookie right now.”). Then, offer your correction (i.e. “Throwing rocks is dangerous.” or “You can’t take cookies without asking permission.”) Make sure not to join the acknowledgment of the behavior with the reason why he can’t do it with the word “but” (i.e. “I know it’s fun to throw rocks but it’s dangerous.”). Using the word “but” is akin to saying, “I know you like this but I don’t care.” so try to avoid using it here. Emotional coaching makes the child feel understood and accepted, even when his behavior is unacceptable. As a result, the child is more likely to want to cooperate with the parents’ requests. This method can greatly reduce misbehavior and encourages compliance.

Avoid Bribes and use Grandma’s Rule
Instead of saying, “If you clean up your toys, you’ll get a treat” (which is a bribe), try saying, “After you’ve cleaned up your toys, you can have a piece of cake” (which is the structure used in Grandma’s Rule). The word “if” denotes the option of doing or not doing something, when in fact you don’t want to give your child that option. The words “after,” “as soon as,” or “when” indicate that the behavior will be accomplished – it’s only a matter of when. The reward will be forthcoming WHEN the behavior is done, not “if” it is done!

Use the 2X-Rule When You Need to Discipline
Sometimes it is necessary to use discipline to reduce negative behavior. The 2X Rule (as described in the book Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice) is a good rule to follow. When your child misbehaves (i.e. hits his sister) tell him that he should refrain from the improper behavior, tell him why he should refrain and tell him what he should do instead of that behavior. That is called Step One. If the child does the misbehavior again, you’ll be on Step Two of the 2X-Rule. Here, you’ll repeat Step One and then warn him that if repeats that behavior again he will receive a negative consequence. You could say something like, “The next time you hit your sister, you will lose your computer privileges for the rest of the day.” Children are more likely to think about what they’re doing before they do it when faced with a consequence. Make sure to follow up with whatever consequence you promised (be reasonable) so that your child takes you seriously. If the misbehavior happens routinely, use the rule version of the 2X-Rule, which, on Step Two, sounds more like this: “From now on, whenever you hurt your sister, such and such consequence will occur.”

Experiment with Different Approaches
There is no one-size-fits-all approaches to parenting. What works with one child in the family may just not work with another. Therefore, read a few books, join a few forums, take a few parenting classes! You may learn a new strategy that really helps THIS child improve his or her behavior.

Try Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease improve your child’s behavior in addition to other things. Some flower remedies that can help a child who often misbehaves include Holly, Vine and Chestnut Bud. Vine is for the child who wants to do what he wants to do, no matter what you want him to do (strong-willed). Chestnut Bud is the remedy for the child that simply doesn’t learn from his mistakes and punishments, and repeats bad behavior over and over again. Holly is used for children who are jealous (i.e. jealous of a brother’s toy) and misbehave as a result. You can mix remedies together and take them at the same time. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the behavior improves. Start treatment again, if the behavior degrades. Eventually, the behavior will improve completely.

Consider Professional Help
If your misbehavior is part of a larger picture of negativity or defiance, and your interventions have not helped sufficiently, consider seeking out the help or assessment of a professional mental health practitioner.