Emotions are of great importance in human development and life. But a lot of people do not attach much importance to them. In fact, people’s knowledge of emotions is reduced to simply naming emotions appropriately. Research shows that success in all walks of life is determined by being aware of your feelings and the ability to cope with them. We often ignore the world of emotions. We pay attention to wrongdoing and ignore the feelings that lead to bad behaviour. Good parenting includes developing emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize one’s own and others’ emotional reactions and states, and the ability to control them. Empathy (the ability to empathize, understand the feelings of others) is closely related to emotional intelligence.
Children who learn most of their parents’ emotion regulation lessons develop the ability to control impulses, motivate themselves, understand the social cues of others, empathize with others, and deal with the ups and downs in their lives.
What kind of parent are you?
Most parents fall into one of two categories: those who teach children to control their feelings, and those who do not.
Psychologist John Gottman calls parents who are taught to manage emotions “emotional educators.” Like sports coaches, they teach their children how to deal with ups and downs. These parents allow their children to express their negative emotions. They accept them as a fact of life and use emotional moments to teach children important life lessons and build a closer relationship with them.
Among parents who are unable to develop emotional intelligence in their children, there are three types:
- Denials – those who do not attach importance to the negative emotions of their children, ignore them, or consider them a trifle.
- Disapprovers – those who criticize their children for showing negative emotions, can reprimand or even punish them.
- Non-interfering – they accept the emotions of their children, empathize, but do not offer solutions and do not set limits on the behaviour of their children.
How it looks in practice
To give you an idea of how differently emotional caregivers and the three types described above respond to their children’s feelings, let’s imagine Ann, whose toddler doesn’t want to go to daycare, in each of these roles.
Three-year-old David doesn’t care at all that his mother has to attend an important meeting in less than an hour. He says he wants to stay home and play. When Ann explains to him that this is not possible, the child falls to the floor. He is upset, angry and starts crying.
If Ann were a rejecting parent, she might tell David that not wanting to go to kindergarten is stupid; that there is no reason to be sad that he is leaving home. She could then try to distract him from his sad thoughts, perhaps by bribing him with cookies or talking about interesting activities that the caregiver has planned.
If she was of the disapproving type, she could scold David for refusing to cooperate, say that she was tired of his willful behaviour.
Being a non-interventionist, she could accept David’s frustration and anger, sympathize with him, say that it is natural for him to want to stay at home, but she would not know what to do next. Unable to leave him at home and not wanting to scold or bribe, perhaps, in the end, she would have made a deal: I will play with you for ten minutes, and after that, we will leave the house without crying. And it could drag on until tomorrow morning.
What would Anne do if she were an emotional educator? She would start with empathy, letting David know that he understands his sadness, and then went further and showed how he can deal with unpleasant emotions. Perhaps their conversation would have sounded something like this:
Ann: Put on your jacket, David. Time to go.
David: No! I don’t want to go to daycare.
Ann: Would you like to go? Why?
David: Because I want to stay here with you.
Ann: Do you want to stay?
David: Yes, I want to stay at home.
Ann: I think I know how you feel. Sometimes in the morning I also want you and me to climb into a chair and look at books together. But you know what? I made a promise to people at work that I would come at 9:00 exactly, and I cannot break the promise.
David (starting to cry): Why can’t you? This is not fair. I do not want to go.
Ann: Come here. (Puts him on his knees.) Sorry, dear, but we can’t stay at home. I understand you feel upset?
David (nods): Yes.
Ann: Are you sad too?
Ann: I’m a little sad too. (She lets him cry for a while sitting in her arms.) I know what we can do. Let’s think about the day when we won’t have to go to work or kindergarten. We can spend the whole day together. Can you think of something special that you would like to do?
David: Have pancakes and watch cartoons?
Ann: Yes, that would be great. But now is the time to go to work, okay?
Ann acknowledged her son’s sadness, helped him name the emotion, allowed him to feel it, and stayed there while he cried. She didn’t try to distract David from his feelings. She did not scold him for his sadness, as a disapproving mother would.
She took a few extra minutes to deal with David’s feelings but made it clear to him that she was not going to be late for work and break her promise to colleagues.
David was disappointed, and Ann shared that feeling with him. In doing so, she allowed David to know, feel, and embrace the emotion, and then she showed that you can go beyond your sadness, wait and have fun the next day.
Five Steps to Emotional Education
As the previous example clearly shows, the process of emotional education has five stages. Parents:
- understand what emotion the child is experiencing;
- see emotions as an opportunity for rapprochement and learning;
- sympathetically listen and acknowledge the child’s feelings;
- help the child find words to indicate the emotion he is experiencing;
- together with the child explore strategies for solving the problem, at the same time setting boundaries.
How emotional parenting affects child development
Children whose parents consistently use emotional parenting have better health and higher academic performance. They have better relationships with friends, have fewer behavioural problems, and are less prone to violence. They experience fewer negative and more positive feelings.
When mothers and fathers use emotional parenting techniques, their children recover faster. They feel sad, angry, or fearful when they find themselves in a difficult situation, but they quickly calm themselves down, bounce back and continue productive activities.
Of course, emotional parenting requires a lot of involvement and patience. It hardly differs from the work of any coach. If you want your child to succeed in hockey, you do not give up the game but start training him.
If you want your child to cope with feelings, stress and develop healthy relationships, you must not close down or ignore the expression of negative emotions. You must find a common language with him and guide him.