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100 Tips for Nannies and Families

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How Parents Can Help Kids Develop Emotional Intelligence (and Why It Matters)

According to the Random House dictionary, emotional intelligence is defined as the “skill in perceiving, understanding, and managing emotions and feelings.”  People who understand what they feel, why they feel as they do, and can shape their feelings and how they manifest in behaviors are thought to possess emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence is at the heart of healthy self-knowledge.  Emotional intelligence is essential for establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, both personal and professional.  Therefore, it is apparent that emotional intelligence is key to a well-adjusted adulthood.  Since parents strive to raise kids to become well-adjusted adults, parents are encouraged to employ the following tips in fostering the development of emotional intelligence in their kids.

  • First and foremost, parents must model the desired behavior.  For example, when parents are angry, they should have sufficient emotional intelligence to understand that there is a difference between anger (the emotion, not the behavior) that is justified and anger-based behaviors are contextually appropriate.  Consider the following scenario:  your neighbor’s dog defecates on your yard (again), despite your informing your neighbor (repeatedly) that you view such behavior as undesirable.  You can either yell at your neighbor (which seems justified, given the recurrent violations of your clearly stated and reasonable boundaries) or you can choose to consider this a small problem unworthy of your time and energy and subsequently talk yourself out of your anger (which is usually the more contextually appropriate response).  If you choose the latter, your choice likely indicates some degree of emotional maturity.
  • Parents should speak with their kids about the choices that they (the parents) make and why they make them.  In the scenario above, the parents may say, “Well, Pat’s dog pooped in our yard again.  I’ve spoken with Pat about it three times.  I guess Pat is such a naturalist that it seems perfectly acceptable to her to leave dog poo in the grass, and she’s having difficulty understanding why it’s not ok for us.  I’ve given this some thought, and I’ve decided to let this situation go.  It’s really not a big deal, and it’s not worth my endangering my neighborly relationship with Pat.  I choose my friendship with Pat over further fussing about this small issue.”
  • Parent should ask their kids age-appropriate questions to guide them to their own emotional intelligence.  Toddlers may be asked questions like, “You seem to be sad.  Are you feeling sad?” and “What is making you feel sad today?”  Initially, toddlers may not be able to answer (or answer accurately) these questions, but with patience over time, they will develop the ability to discern their feelings and understand why they are feeling what they do.  Older children may have additional questions asked.  “I’m sorry you and Paul had a fight.  Would you say that Paul was objectively wrong or is it that you two just had a conflict of interest in this situation?”  “What was Paul’s perspective in this situation?”  “Do your choices today support your long-term goals?”  “Do your choices today reflect the kind of person that you want to be?”
  • Using active listening skills, parents should listen to their kids.  By letting their kids feel truly heard, kids can find it easier to understand and manage their emotions.  For example, if a child says, “I hate Johnny!  He’s mean!”  Parents can reply by saying, “I hear you saying that Johnny has hurt your feelings.  Is that right?  What happened?”
  • Parents should provide validation, understanding, and empathy as much as possible toward their kids (as long as it is reasonable to do so) while providing gentle guidance on those elements of their kids’ feelings and behaviors than cannot reasonably be validated.  “I understand that it made you angry when Timmy took your toy train.  It’s your toy, and Timmy didn’t ask you if he could play with it before he took it.  I get that you felt like Timmy didn’t respect your ownership of the toy.  Feeling angry makes sense to me.  Did hitting Timmy on the head get your toy back?  Did it help Timmy understand why you were upset with him?  Did it help you and Timmy move forward better?  How do you think Timmy saw what happened?”
  • Parents should guide their kids through emotion-management by providing helpful hints on healthy boundaries.  In the scenario above, parents may say, “Timmy is younger than you are.  He’s only two years old.  I wonder if he just doesn’t know about asking before he starts playing with someone else’s toys.  Perhaps, when this happens again, you can say to Timmy, ‘You can play with my toy train.  I’m happy to share with you.  I’d like you to ask me first, though.’  Timmy may not understand what you want of him even when you say that.  So, you may have to show him.  Ask him if you can borrow one of his toys.  Help him understand your expectations of him.  Ok?  Oh, and be patient while Timmy learns.  It sometimes takes people a few times before they understand new things.”

By following the tips above, parents can help their kids develop emotional intelligence and grow to become well-adjusted adults.

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