An Expert's Tips For Teaching Emotional intelligence To Yourself & Your Kids
As a parent, there is nothing you want more for your children than for them to be happy. What if I told you this was actually a narrow and limited vision for your child? A more expanded vision is one that validates and allows them to embody all emotions (responsibly) and prepares them for the ups and downs they will face in their lives.
Most parents limit or curb their children's behavior and emotional expression to some degree. You may find yourself doing this for any of the following reasons:
- It is socially unacceptable to show any emotions or disruptive behavior in public (other than joy, but even that has limits).
- Emotional expression was frowned upon in your own family.
- Certain behaviors or emotions our child displays trigger unresolved events from our childhood.
The more we understand ourselves and bring awareness and healing to the challenges and traumas from our past, the more our children will thrive. Any level of challenge we experienced in our past does not automatically relegate us to creating the same dynamics with our children. One of my favorite researchers and practitioners in this area is psychiatrist Dan Siegel, M.D. His book, Parenting From the Inside Out, articulates the research behind the importance of raising our self-awareness of historical triggers. Without this perspective and practice, how can we expect to support our children in healthy emotional expression if we have not done it ourselves?
Why do I get angry?
What causes our anger meter to go from 0 to 60 mph when our child behaves in certain ways? Why do certain behaviors send me through the roof but don't bother my partner at all? The answer lies in the wiring of our brain that was programmed throughout our childhood.
When we say my child makes me "lose my mind," it is actually true! We bury unpleasant or toxic memories in our unconscious, and they can stay underground until we either raise a child or teach children. When the unfinished business from our past is triggered, we lose contact with the executive-functioning, or the decision-making, part of our brains and slip into the lower functioning (think fright, flight, freeze) of our limbic system.
What can I do about it?
1. Build self-awareness.
Identify the historical trigger in the moment and take it to its root cause in order to bring you back to the present moment. This is done through intentional personal-growth work—a challenging, courageous, and rewarding path. But until we have some muscles built in this area, the quickest way back to ourselves is to label the emotion that you are feeling in the moment you are triggered. Siegel coined the phrase "Name it to tame it," and this simple, research-based behavior calms the emotional centers of our brain and allows the frontal lobe to come back online and offer input.
2. Join them!
We all need a good tantrum every now and then. Why let them have all the fun expressing themselves? Often when our child's emotions are escalated, they are expressing the charge for everyone in the family system. In safe environments, you can set up space for them to have their full anger. Maybe they hit the couch and yell and scream. Direct their anger, and then consider joining them. Tell them it seems we all need to express ourselves, and genuinely allow some of your feelings to flow.
3. Thank them!
I bet it never crossed your mind to thank your child for being your highly paid consultant to help you heal your past and have your full range of emotions? The benefit of digging into this vulnerable work for yourself is that it will open up space in all of your relationships. And, as an additional benefit, it allows you to truly create a more enjoyable relationship with your children.
What about timeouts, do they work?
The answer is yes and no. It depends on what we expect the timeout to achieve. They don't work to change a behavior. A timeout is best used as a reset to support emotional regulation and promote critical thinking. When the timeout is done, ask the child why they had a timeout. This can be a time for both of you to repair the breach that transpired in either/both of your behaviors. You can underline standards and values the family has agreed upon and explore emotions more deeply during this time. Taking the time for this reflection and repair will go a long way in building critical thinking and emotional awareness.
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