When kids can’t fake it or cram for it

How to raise an emo­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent child

The Kids Post - - Parent to Parent - JOANNE KATES Par­ent­ing colum­nist Joanne Kates is an ex­pert ed­u­ca­tor in the ar­eas of con­flict me­di­a­tion, self-es­teem and anti-bul­ly­ing, and she is the di­rec­tor of Camp Arowhon in Al­go­nquin Park.

This col­umn has been pay­ing at­ten­tion to cur­ricu­lum, since it’s the school year. But not to school cur­ricu­lum. To par­ent­ing cur­ricu­lum. This is the stuff we need to teach our chil­dren be­cause they don’t learn it in school, and it’s im­por­tant. Maybe even more im­por­tant than his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy. That they can Google 24/7. But you can’t Google emo­tional in­tel­li­gence, some­times dubbed EQ. You can’t fake it, you can’t cram for it, and it’s pretty hard to learn once you’re grown up. All of which make the stakes pretty high on rais­ing a child with EQ. So how to? The easy part is know­ing what

not to do. This will seem pa­thet­i­cally ob­vi­ous to most read­ers. The first not-do is par­ent­ing that does not en­gage with chil­dren’s feel­ings. Many of us were raised that way. I’m not sure that nei­ther of my par­ents ever knew I had feel­ings, and if that awk­ward sit­u­a­tion pre­sented it­self, they were sure to run the other way. Per­haps be­cause their own feel­ings were so ap­palling to them. And each other. But that’s a story for an­other day, kid­dies. You can love your kids to bits, but not at­tend­ing to their feel­ings de­nies them the op­por­tu­nity to learn to nav­i­gate their feel­ings. The kicker here is re­search has linked fathers’ in­volve­ment in the EQ cur­ricu­lum with kids’ emo­tional ma­tu­rity. In some fam­i­lies mom does the heavy lift­ing in this depart­ment — which can work. But kids whose dads coach them about how to deal with feel­ings are kids who grow up re­silient and emo­tion­ally flex­i­ble.

The se­cond not-do is the mir­ror im­age of the first. This sounds like: My daugh­ter is my best friend.… She tells me ev­ery­thing.… My son doesn’t open up to any­one but me…. When talk­ing to one’s child who is in dis­tress, it in­cludes of­fers that sound like this:

“I’ll call the teacher/prin­ci­pal and sort this out.”

“I’ll call the camp and make sure that kid isn’t in your cabin.… Isn’t al­lowed to.: “I’ll call his/her mother and.…” The prob­lem with th­ese of­fers is they don’t grow chil­dren’s ca­pac­ity. They do the op­po­site. They ex­press doubt in the child’s ca­pac­ity.

We all want to run pro­tec­tion for our kids be­cause we’re Mama Bear. Look at me: A friend had to

stop me from call­ing the School of Grad­u­ate Stud­ies at Columbia Univer­sity when my (then) 25 –year-old daugh­ter wasn’t hav­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence I thought she should have there. Argh! It was aw­ful. For me. I hated not be­ing able to fix it for her.

And that is the core les­son of rais­ing a child with EQ. Don’t fix it. Teach them to fix it. Step One is be­ing an em­pathic lis­tener. When kids are sad or an­gry or frus­trated, it sounds like: “That’s hard.… You sound sad.… I feel for you.” It’s about tak­ing time to lis­ten em­path­i­cally with­out of­fer­ing judg­ment or so­lu­tions. Car­ing lis­ten­ing. Em­pa­thy. For kids who have trou­ble know­ing their feel­ings, some­times a “fish­ing” ex­pe­di­tion helps: “It sounds like you might be feel­ing mad … sad … frus­trated.…” Of­ten­times when we’re talk­ing with a child who doesn’t know his feel­ings, if we give him words and make an ac­cu­rate guess, he is then able to ac­knowl­edge the feel­ing and la­bel it him­self. So Step One is teach­ing our kids to name their feel­ings, to bring them into aware­ness. Be­ing able to talk about their feel­ings is foun­da­tional for EQ.

Step Two is coach­ing your child to solve her prob­lem. Like any other kind of coach­ing, coach­ing for EQ takes time and com­mit­ment. Quicker to do it your­self than sit with your child and ask: “How do you think you might solve that prob­lem?” Sports coaches don’t get on the field. They plan strat­egy and teach skills to their play­ers be­fore the game and then de­brief af­ter­wards.

And some­times it comes down to how we set lim­its. As par­ents, many of us are fond of the mov­ing tar­get. We set a limit and our ju­nior lit­i­ga­tor is so con­vinc­ing, and so per­sis­tent, we fade at the fin­ish line. When we give in on lim­its, our kids learn to be emo­tion­ally in­flex­i­ble. We moved, they didn’t. They failed to ac­cept a limit. That’s what they learned to do. In­stead, when we set a limit, and they push back, we need to go back to Step One: lis­ten­ing em­path­i­cally. En­cour­age them to vent all their ugly feel­ings about this ter­ri­ble limit. Help them la­bel their feel­ings. Ac­knowl­edge them. And then move on. This grows re­silience, which is core to EQ. They know their feel­ings, they’re mad, they move on. Shazam! You did it!

Giv­ing in on lim­its can teach kids to be emo­tion­ally flex­i­ble

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