We can’t order a child from the mail-order-child catalogue – “Please give me one who is as sweet as sugar, totally obedient, very clever, likes what I like, makes a good first impression, makes a good lasting impression – and is also very attractive.” Instead, we roll the dice, conceive a child, and take what comes. Sometimes what comes is disappointing.
Not What I Ordered
For instance, parents can find themselves with a child who is stubborn and willful by nature and who uses that will to do the exact opposite of what the parents want. The parents want an athlete; the child is a bookworm. The parents want a scholar; the child is an artist. The parents want a socialite; the child is a loner.
Parents value certain behaviors, traits and activities more than others. They are certainly entitled to their preferences. However, they are not entitled to try to turn their kids into something they are not. Rather, it is the parent’s job to work with what they have, to educate the child according to that child’s innate characteristics and inclinations. In order to do this, parents have to mourn the loss of their “ideal” child. They have to come to terms with the reality of the child who has been delivered to them.
Accepting Each Child
Emotional intelligence is fostered by acceptance. When parents accept the validity of a child’s worldview – the child’s feelings, perceptions and views – the child comes to know him or herself better. Reflecting back the child’s experience helps the child to hear his or her own thoughts and considerations. “You don’t like reading? You find it boring?” the parent reflects back to the youngster who refuses to pick up a book. The child can listen and reflect upon the parent’s reflection. “It’s not that I don’t like reading – it’s that I don’t like reading big novels. I like short books with pictures!”
When a parent starts by accepting what the child is expressing, the child’s understanding of him or herself can grow. Imagine, however, if the parent responded to the reluctant reader with outrage: “WHAT? YOU HAVE TO READ BOOKS! YOU CAN’T GET ANYWHERE IN THIS WORLD UNLESS YOU READ!” The child will then experience confusion, hurt, anger and upset. Instead of growing in understanding, the child will shrink in emotional intelligence. Although parents have a right to want to influence and guide their youngsters, they must find a way to do this without shoving, pushing and squashing. Respectfully accepting the child where he or she is at is the healthy starting point, the point that builds emotional intelligence.
Accepting and Letting Go
When a parent strives to understand the child’s worldview, the parent also expands in understanding and awareness. There are different ways of being. Gentle acceptance of the child leads to gentle acceptance of differences. The child, after all, is not the parent. Acceptance is the key in fostering emotional intelligence. Accepting that the child prefers to be alone or prefers to be with others all the time means accepting that the child is a unique individual with his or her own mission in this world. Respectfully reflecting those preferences back to the child, accepting the child’s right to be different, allows the child to grow and flourish as an individual. Allowing the child to be who he or she is, is a gift that fosters love, mutual respect and, of course, emotional intelligence.