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How to Be an Emotionally Intelligent Parent

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The following advice helps you figure out the essential emotional skills you need as a parent. By managing your impulses, you will be more clear-headed in your approach to your child. By being more empathic, you can understand where your child’s really coming from (and even discover that your child’s goal in life isn’t actually to drive you crazy)! Finally, by improving your problem-solving ability, you can come up with better ways to deal with your child when he or she gets difficult.

Using your emotional skills to manage your child

You need self-management emotional skills to bring up your child in a constructive and nurturing way. Studies have found that excessively yelling at your child can do as much harm as — or even more harm than — spanking your child. The results of yelling at your child, name-calling, and putting her down last longer than a slap on the bum, for example.

The message you send to your child — the words and the emotion attached to those words — live on in your child’s mind. That message can reinforce the idea that your child is a bad person. In addition, if you continue yelling, your child eventually becomes immune to the noise — she tunes it out and ignores it. She just thinks, “Oh, he’s telling me how worthless I am again.”

When you can manage your own emotional responses, you can become a better parent. Some of the most important emotional skills that apply to parenting include impulse control, empathy, and problem-solving. By working on your ability (and your partner’s ability) in these areas, you can implement any number of parenting approaches. If you can’t manage your own emotions, no parenting approaches can help you raise a happy, emotionally secure child.

Emotional intelligence and age.
Emotional intelligence and age.

Managing your impulse control

Losing control of your impulses can derail effective parenting. Getting a grip on your impulsive behavior can go a long way in making you a more stable, nurturing, influential, and supportive parent. Sometimes, you may not even realize that you’re being negative and deflating to your child. Your voice gets louder, your temper gets shorter, you move quickly and impatiently, and you start making demanding statements (such as Do this! Get that! Bring it to me now!).

Imagine if you behaved that way toward a perfect stranger — how embarrassing! Or think of yourself in a job interview. Would you think about the questions that the interviewer asks you, or would you say, “That’s a dumb question. Look, I’m too busy for this. Just finish your questions and let me outta here.” Think you’d get the job? Try imagining that your child is thinking about hiring you as his parent.

You can use a number of long-term strategies to become more patient. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Consider getting involved in meditation, mindfulness, or yoga.

  • Over the next week, pay close attention to your anger or frustration when it begins to build — monitor your feelings and the things that you tell yourself while these feelings escalate. Try to dispute the thoughts that give rise to these feelings. At the end of each day, summarize your attempts to deal with your anger. See whether you can figure out how to better detect your anger when it just begins and it’s easier to manage.

  • If you consistently can’t manage your impulses, you may want to meet with a professional counselor.

Using empathy as a guide

Empathy, which gives you the ability to read your child’s emotions and understand where she’s coming from, can help you manage her behavior.

Here are some ways that you can be more empathic with your child:

  • When your child is upset, first try to understand what he may be experiencing.

  • If your child is old enough to respond, ask what’s wrong, or why she’s feeling that way.

  • Try reflecting back the emotion that your child is experiencing. (For example, you could say, “You seem to be very angry, Sarah.”)

  • Ask questions not specifically related to the feeling but about activities and events — what she was doing earlier today, what happened at lunch, what will she do this afternoon? Sometimes you can get clues to feeling issues through listening to what happened at recent events (for example, what did you do after Kevin said he didn’t want to play with you?). Many kids have difficulty articulating feelings spontaneously.

If you attempt to understand your child, she responds with more useful information about what she’s feeling, which she doesn’t do if you try to control her behavior. Your child wants understanding and attention first — and solutions later.

Problem-solving your way through crises

After you manage your impulses and empathize with your child, you’re ready for some real problem-solving. Start considering what you can do to deal with your child’s behavior.

You might want to pull out whatever resources you have. Use your parents, other relatives, or close friends for advice. How have they dealt with these behaviors?

Follow these basic steps when you’re problem-solving:

  1. Make sure you have a good grasp of the problem.

    Start by clearly and concisely describing the problem. (For example, Julia starts whining and complaining every time we go to Grandma’s house.)

  2. Consider a number of alternative solutions.

    Think your way through how each of your solutions might play out.

  3. Choose a solution that you can use, based on your trial-and-error thoughts.

  4. Implement your solution.

    Pay close attention to how well your solution works.

  5. Re-evaluate whether it was the best solution for you.

    If it wasn’t, try one of your alternatives.

    If your solution worked to your satisfaction, congratulate yourself on your success and remember this experience for the future.

When problem-solving in parenting, you usually have to go through some trial and error. Be optimistic. You can eventually find a solution that’s right for you. But you also need to take away valuable information from your mistakes, as well as from your successes.


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