We all want children that are respectful, compassionate, empathetic, and emotionally strong, right? However, raising emotionally intelligent children is very close to impossible if you don’t have these capacities yourself. It’s sort of a “practice what you preach” kind of thing.
There’s an ancient fable that perfectly portrays this:
A mother was concerned that her son was obsessed with eating sugar. So, she took him to Mahatma Gandhi. She thought that maybe his instruction could persuade her son to stop consuming so much sugar. Gandhi, however, told her to bring the child back the following week.
When they finally met for a second time, Gandhi simply told the child “Stop eating sugar.” When confronted why he didn’t just tell him this the previous week, Gandhi answered, “Because I was still eating sugar two weeks ago.”
From this fable comes one of Mahatma Gandhi’s most famous quotes:
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
In this case, you must be the change you want to see in your children. Do you want your children to have emotional intelligence? You must first work on yourself. Because simply put, your children are extensions of who you are. Their attitudes and behaviors reflect your values and ways of approaching life. In fact, these set of values or behaviors, pass down from generation to generation. This is called the:
Multigenerational Transmission Process
According to one of Bowen’s family system theories, behavioral and emotional patterns are successively passed down from previous generations. These patterns become more intense with each passing generation. This theory depicts that mental diseases such as neurosis and schizophrenia are a product of the accumulation of unaddressed dysfunctional patterns passed down from our ancestors.
In plain English: if there’s no inner growth, things just keep getting worse for the following generations.
The only way to stop this impending chain of events is by becoming self-aware.
It’s time to take a look at your family history. Can you recognize behavioral patterns in you, your parents, and even your grandparents? What keeps recurring over and over again? Once you become aware of these patterns, it is possible to make conscious efforts to eradicate them. It may not be an easy process, but its outcomes are totally worth it.
Now, you must be thinking, “Where should I start?”
In this article, I’ve compiled some of the most recommended practices for raising emotionally intelligent children. While reading this short guide, think about those that come easily to you, and why. Also, think about those that are far away from being achievable. This is a good way to become self-aware, and it will indicate you where you should focus your attention.
Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children
Have you ever heard about developmental milestones? These are physical skills seen in infants and children as they grow and develop. You can look at emotional skills similarly.
Which emotional milestones have you already employed on your children? Let’s get started:
Set realistic expectations concerning your child.
Your expectations can’t be higher than what your child can achieve. This pressure generates anxiety. It also affects self-esteem enormously. So pay close attention to your children’s strengths and weaknesses. Get to know them; be very observant of their capacities. Be aware that they WILL have flaws and weaknesses. And that’s ok; your love for them shouldn’t depend on their achievements. On that note, try to:
Use your words wisely when addressing your children.
Criticizing your children can scar them for life. In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz gives us a perfect example of this:
Once there was a girl who was happily singing a song. Her mom was in one of those terrible days where she felt her head was about to explode. She was tired and irritable. Because of this, she screamed at her, “Shut up with that very ugly voice! It is horrible!” This girl grew up to believe her singing was, indeed, horrible, and never sang again.
Her mother was harsh towards her because she lost patience. She was unable to handle her emotions intelligently. This is how emotional intelligence plays an important role here.
However, it’s also very important to consider that some parents criticize their children constantly because they can’t stand imperfection. What does that say about them? They probably criticize because their parents did the same to them. And now their parent’s voice is inside them.
Sadly, this little voice never goes away. Freud named it the superego. See how it becomes a vicious cycle that never stops? You can be the change of this sequential chain of events.
Now, let’s say that instead of focusing on your child’s weaknesses, you start emphasizing on your children’s strengths. This can be very powerful and transformative. Believing in your child will subsequently make them believe in themselves. And once you believe in something, it becomes true.
But, to achieve this, you must first do these things inwardly. You must quiet down that voice, and start looking at your own strengths. Forget about the weaknesses. We all have our own set of flaws. That’s not a reason for not loving yourself.
See where I’m getting here? If you can’t feel love towards yourself, then your children won’t either. If your children don’t feel self-acceptance, they will grow up looking for that inner voice in other people that will make them feel “at home”. They will also grow up with a weak sense of self and will believe every criticism given by anyone. And we don’t want that, do we?
Encourage your children to be independent.
Don’t do everything for your children, such as dress or feed them. If they’re old enough to do these things, let them. Doing it for them tells them that they are useless. This has a negative impact on their self-esteem. Another way to encourage independence would be to:
Let your children sleep on their own.
Most parents love to just cuddle with their children and feeling them close. If you don’t live in a one bed-room apartment, or if you’re not breastfeeding, try to avoid this. Think about it this way: if a child gets used to sleeping with their parent or parents, then he or she will fear being on their own. And an adult that can’t be on their own is a recipe for disaster.
Don’t get me wrong. One thing is cuddling and being affectionate towards your child. Another one entirely different is sleeping in the same bed every night. This isn’t healthy for your child —and neither it is for you, especially if you have a spouse. In that same tone:
Set healthy and firm boundaries.
Consistency is key! If your child persuades you with everything they want, as an adult they will try to defy bigger forms of authority. Trust me, I get it. You want to please your children because you love them. And you want what’s best for them. But in the long run, pleasing them all the time actually hurts them. It also makes them entitled and self-absorbed. There is nothing more annoying than an entitled and self-absorbed grown-up. They can be very toxic.
Define a proper “Code of Ethics” that the entire family can live by.
We’re not always aware of our set of values. They’re usually unconscious. Think about the values you want your children to have. Actually, think about the values you have. Because the best way to teach values is by example.
For instance, if you want your children to be respectful towards others, you must be respectful towards your children and others.
Let’s say you argued with a friend, and your children watch you insult them or diminish them. What do you think they would do when they have arguments with friends? Or let’s say you lose your temper frequently and start lashing out at others when things don’t go your way. You’d be teaching them intolerance and impatience.
So, what are your day-to-day attitudes? Are you usually eager to go to work? Or optimistic when things don’t work out as planned? Or even more, do you give thanks even when things go bad? If that’s the case then you’d be teaching them hard work, optimism, and gratitude.
All these things considered, try to think about the ways you react to situations in life. Defining your values may not be an easy task. You need a very high level of self-awareness for this because we’re not always aware of our attitudes or behaviors. Even harder yet, is to categorize these behaviors into values.
In our article, Emotional Intelligence, we talk about how you can define your values. Check it out!
Teach your children not to feel fear from emotional pain or failure.
You can’t protect your children from every difficult situation throughout their entire lives. However, you can teach them how to react in a way that will make them overcome pain and learn from it:
First, talk to them about how they feel. Name the emotion with them. Tell them it’s ok to feel this way, and that they will always have you to talk about it.
Second, don’t try to cheer them up or divert their attention. You can do activities that will help them feel unburdened, such as writing a short story about it or drawing the emotion as a separate character from themselves.
Now, what exactly do you do when you are going through difficult situations? It won’t be easy to address these feelings with your child if you’re unable to do it on your own.
Finally, you can ask them what knowledge they acquired from this experience. If they fail at something and feel bad about it, teach them about hard work and dedication, and to not be too hard on themselves. Teach them to give thanks for this failure and the knowledge it brought, because:
Teach your children to look at the glass half full and not empty. It’s all about looking at difficulties with a different set of eyes. Beware —you don’t want to teach denial or repression.
No, that’s not the goal. The idea is to take the bad with the good, to accept what’s bad in their lives, and to be thankful for what’s working. This attitude will prevent them from a lot of suffering in the long run.
Is this something you do, or it’s something you need to work on yourself as well?
Now, last, but not least:
Make sure your children feel loved by you.
Have you ever heard about the 5 love languages? Well, children’s love language is PLAY. The more you sit down with them and play, the more they’ll feel loved by you. This expression of love will make them resilient, happy, and emotionally stable. Even learning comes easier for them.
Have you ever heard of school systems in Finland? Children in these countries intellectually outrank children from all over the world. It’s quite simple why: they focus their education on free play and artistic activities.
For older children, it can be spending quality time doing an activity they enjoy. Take the time to know your children, and think about ways you can make them feel special. In the end, there’s one thing we can conclude for sure:
So don’t hesitate in taking the extra inner work to be able to raise your children with emotional intelligence.
If you liked this article, you will surely love to read about homeschool tips for parents.
Subscribe to learn more about emotional and mental processes!
How to reference this article
Pelaez.S (2020). Raising emotionally intelligent children PsycheSpot https://www.psychespot.com/parenting-awareness/raising-emotionally-intelligent-children/
APA style references
Rabstejnek, C. V. (2012). Family systems & murray bowen theory.
Ruiz, M. (2011). The four agreements: A practical guide to personal freedom. Amber-Allen Pub.
Images in order of appearance: