by Laura Kastner, Ph.D.
NEWS FLASH! Twenty years of research has established that emotional intelligence—social and emotional skills—truly does foster success in kids. Parents should be craving this stuff for their kids more than perfect SAT’s and Olympic level athletic skills! In fact, it’s so integral to educational achievement and mental health that congress is funding “social and emotional” learning programs for school classrooms and war veterans.
Why aren’t parents buzzing about this? Why is there still more obsession with grades, AP class enrollment and talent development than sharing intimate and positive moments in the family? Is emotional intelligence just “too mushy” a concept, since you can’t measure it as easily? Perhaps—but I think the big rub is that it is best developed in the home. Many parents would rather go “buy a package” than be accountable themselves for demonstrating healthy social and emotional behaviors for…hmmm…a couple of decades.
What is the parenting package that helps to develop this vital essence?
I have created an acronym (RELATE) to identify the emotional and social skills we want to model and encourage in the home. These skills predict higher achievement, better emotional adjustment and more successful relationships in your child’s future.
R Remain calm so that you can interact with loved ones in respectful ways.
E Express emotions appropriate to the situation and the child’s age.
L Label emotions, giving your children a broad vocabulary for expressing their own.
A Acknowledge the cause of your emotions, without blaming, just describing.
T Take responsibility for managing your negative emotions, especially while in conflict.
E Empathize with your child’s feelings genuinely.
Remember that empathy does not imply agreement or giving into a child’s rage, protest or demands. Capable and authoritative parents are compassionate, but they don’t spoil their kids. They appreciate that children can be wildly intense, disappointed, anxious, angry and irritable, but they don’t react to these emotions. They hold the line on behavioral expectations, but accept that children have messy feelings.
Kids can be quite disrespectful when they experience their messy and negative feelings. Even tweens and teens can’t regulate their emotions consistently due to the immaturity of the prefrontal cortex (the “thinking” and “impulse control” center of the brain). Neurobiological maturation is a long term project that takes over twenty years. As the parent, you are the one who is supposed to have self management skills up and running, not them. Being patient and skillful with children who truly are “works in progress” is what our book, Getting to Calm, is all about.
What is “good enough” parenting and why is it harder to achieve these days? Continue reading