There are two major things that determine the quality of our life: having a meaningful job and sustaining happy relationships with the people around us. Unfortunately, none of these are taught at school. Yet, there are skills that can help us along the way especially if we were happy to acquire them in childhood. They concern mainly our emotional intelligence and can be fostered early on in life with proper guidance.
So, if you have kids of your own, here are 7 useful tips that might help you nurture their emotional growth:
1. Be responsive
Feeling security and trust is paramount for your child’s emotional and mental health. The primary interaction patterns remain a lasting trace in the mind of every young human – to the point of determining the quality of their adult relationships and bonds. Whether we see our emotional life as frightening or as a well of inner strength, depends greatly on what our first experiences of love looked like.
2. Allow the expression of feelings and emotions
Though it’s inevitable to set limits on some of your child’ actions (e.g. hitting and biting are not allowed), feelings should be freely expressed. What a child feels is not under her control (as is with adults, by the way). Repressed feelings don’t just disappear. They have the property of coming back in a passive-aggressive form or some other unhealthy manner. It is better to help your child put words for what she is experiencing. That’s what makes even the strongest of emotions fade away and will give her the necessary vocabulary to use with others.
3. Show empathy
There is nothing more healing for your child’s wounded soul, than your acceptance and understanding. Use active listening when she is in a tricky state of mind. Knowing that she is loved and accepted even when she does not feel lovable paves the way for self-acceptance and self-respect. It also sends the message that what she experiences is not weird, wrong and foreign to her important others. This is a lesson for reaching out when she is in pain and also a useful behavior to model as she grows up.
4. Practice what you preach
The most powerful lesson you will ever teach your child about emotional intelligence is through your own example. Model what it means to be emotionally intelligent. Watch how you express yourself, how you share your feelings and inner struggles – take your child backstage in your moral dilemmas. Showing your vulnerabilities in a calm manner may help your kid understand that emotional life is not scary. It is part of being human.
5. Show respect
If your child doesn’t like her teacher, doesn’t want to play with a particular kid or is scared of the merry-go-round, she has the right to feel this way and it should be respected. Due to my people-pleasing inclinations, I sometimes find myself overwriting my son’s feelings in certain situations especially if I sense someone might be offended. But the risk here is to send the message that what a child feels is less important than how mummy (or the teacher, or the other kid) feels. It may also lead the child to pick up his mum’s neurotic, people-pleasing technique and dissociate from his own feelings.
6. Handle anger constructively
It is easier said, than done. Anger is one of the most difficult emotions to handle, both for kids and adults. Most of us have problems with it ourselves which makes teaching it to kids especially tricky. Staying calm in a heated situation is an important skill. The first step is to acknowledge the presence of anger and give space for its safe expression (with words if possible). Empathizing along the way may also help for the angry child to calm down. Later on, you can reflect on the situation together and consider appropriate actions to avoid getting in it again.
7. Problem-solve together
Or let your child problem-solve on her own: about conflicts, feelings, ambiguous situations. Ask questions and allows space for her to think about different possibilities. What can she do in a similar situation that would be more helpful? How can she express her feelings and desires in a more constructive way? What would change then? The more reasoning she does, the better she will become in handling difficult situations and in knowing what the helpful responses are.
Teaching these lessons to your child can make a big difference in her social and intellectual development. And it’s something that most schools do not provide.