FAMILY / PARENTING
Helping your children develop emotional intelligence with Dr. Laura Markham
EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE IS what enables us to regulate our emotions, work and play well with others, and work through conflict in any relationship so both people get their needs met in a healthy way. The term "emotion-coaching" was coined by John Gottman, the author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. His many years of research observing families in his Love Lab in Seattle led him to the conclusion that being a loving parent, while essential, is not enough to raise children who can self-regulate. Kids also need our help with the tough emotions that challenge them: jealousy, anger, fear. To help children with emotions, we first need to understand that once we let ourselves feel an emotion, it begins to dissipate. If, on the other hand, we try to push the emotion away, we end up stuffing it down in our unconscious, where we’re no longer in control of it. That’s why we get "triggered" and explode: those pent up emotions are always jostling to come up and get healed, but since they aren’t under conscious control, they pour out unregulated. So our goal in emotion-coaching children is to help them feel safe to feel their emotions, which heals upsets as they occur, and helps kids learn to manage their feelings. Once they can manage their emotions, they can manage their behaviour. Emotional intelligence skills begin with the child’s ability to soothe himself when he’s upset. Some children are born with more innate ability to regulate themselves. But all parents have a huge influence in helping their children develop emotional regulation. Since the brain takes shape in the first few years of life in response to experience, babies’ brains build the neural pathways to soothe their upsets every time you soothe them. Simply by comforting your baby or toddler when she’s upset, you prompt her body to release calming biochemicals and strengthen her future ability to soothe herself – the most fundamental emotional intelligence skill.
FEELING SAFE WITH EMOTIONS The most important emotion- coaching skill for parents is empathizing with a child’s emotions, which both soothes the child and helps her develop her own capacity for empathy. Virtually all children are born intuitively able to understand the emotions of others through their mirror neurons and limbic system. But unless children experience feeling understood, they don’t learn to feel safe with emotions, so other people’s upset feelings scare them. Your commitment to empathize with your child, therefore, is an important determinant of his ability to offer understanding to others. Your empathy also helps your children develop self-regulation. When a child feels understood, he feels closer to his parents, so he’s more likely to accept limits and cooperate. He learns that emotions aren’t dangerous, and he has a choice about whether to act on them, so he develops more self- control. This helps him handle disappointment better, so he becomes more resilient. By contrast – and this >
'AS YOU TRY THIS EMPATHIC APPROACH, YOU’LL SEE AN
IMMEDIATE CHANGE IN YOUR CHILD. SHE MAY EVEN START OFFERING YOU HUGS
WHEN YOU’RE UPSET'
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2015 www.thegreenparent.co.uk