Saturday, March 13, 2010

Emotional Intelligence and Parenting

Pic: That's me and my little one Sneha.

A practical guide for parents with examples of how to build emotional intelligence in children.

Let’s for a moment think of elders we loved when we were children - parents, uncles, aunts or neighbours. Invariably they were not just successful people in life. They were cheerful, positive, considerate, friendly and understanding men and women.

It just goes to prove that it requires more than just cognitive intelligence to be a winner in this world. One certainly needs ‘emotional intelligence.’ The ability to empathize, manage one’s emotions, handle relationships, hold back negative emotions - anger, jealousy and instead focus on positive feelings, believes an emerging school of behavioral thought.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) was a hot topic all over the world in the 1990s. Earlier confirmed to academic circles, it was made popular by psychologist Daniel Goleman’s best selling Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Drawing on path-breaking behavioral research done by psychologists Peter Salovey, John Mayer, Howard Gardner, Reuven Barron and others, Goleman concluded that people who are emotionally skilled are more successful in any activity than those with just a high IQ. While the value of tremendous research on EI is its implications for executive training, its nevertheless for upbringing of children.

An excessive focus on the new theory that EQ is more vital than IQ for executives has led many to forget its real implications – EQ for the family. Perhaps, its time parents turned emotionally intelligent and laid the foundation for their children’s optimistic, stable, cheerful and successful lives.

What is Emotional Intelligence?
EI is no ‘neopsycho babble’ and has it roots in the concept of social intelligence propounded by EL Thorndike, an eminent psychologist of the1920s. He averred that the ability to understand others and ‘act wisely in human relations’ was itself a vital part of IQ. IQ theorists had then shot down this concept.

In 1983 Howard Gardner, a Harvard University professor refuted the IQ view of intelligence in his influential Frames of Mind. He said the IQ definition of intelligence was too narrow. More recently behavioral scientists Sternbag and Salovey have concurred with this view. While interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand other people, emotional intelligence is a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide thinking and actions says John Mayer and Peter Salovey of the University of New Hampshire, psychologists who coined the phrase of Emotional Intelligence. Goleman defines EI more elaborately to include such competencies as optimism, motivation, conscientiousness, empathy and social competence.

Why is EQ important?
EI effects just about everything you do. And unlike IQ which more or less stabilized by the age of 18, EQ can be improved upon at any time. In fact, the world is beginning to accept that EQ, and not IQ, may be the true measure of intelligence.

Parents need to be Emotionally intelligent.

Understanding the child
How often do we see parents enraged with a child, reprimanding, neglecting or even caning the little one? It’s all due to lack of understanding what the child needs and its limited capabilities to understand and respond. One must realize that the child cannot communicate clearly and effectively as adults. Most parents presume a crying child is hungry. Not necessarily. It may feel neglected and calls for attention or an ant has bit him/her. Parents must understand the relationship the child is trying to establish between its emotion and the expressive movements. Remember you are 30 plus and shouldn’t expect a child aged few years to understand you and behave accordingly.

The parental influence on a child in the early years is vital to the child’s life. Since much of moods, fears, attitudes, personality is determined in the first 10 years. We must provide the best ambience for the child to grow. Further, majority of the child’s time is spent at home and hence what he sees, hears, feels, smells and touches will ultimately determine what he’s going to be later.

Managing Emotion
You not only need to understand your own innermost feelings, but also the child’s since it becomes easier to explore ways to handle the child’s insecurities, moods, fears, anxieties etc.

This is one quality most parents lack. Parents are more worried about their reputation, what the neighbor or the world thinks of them and their child, rather then being sensitive to the child’s feeling. You must come down to the child’s level, understanding it from its point of view.

Handling Relationships
Children learn by seeing. If you’re quarrelling often amongst yourself, or accusing each other, showing faces or behaving erratically, the effect on the child could be disastrous. Fostering good relationships with both spouses and children can go along way in providing the perfect launch pad for a child’s future.

Can EQ be taught?
Patterns of EI are not fixed. Parents can boost the all-round EQ of children by plugging their emotional inadequacies. Goleman is categorical that EI can be taught. In an interview to Home Arts, USA, Goleman explained steps parents must take to help promote a child’s emotional intelligence.

Goleman: The first is to understand that you have a crucial role as your child’s emotional tutor. The second is to use moments of emotion in your child’s life – particularly moments of emotional distress to help your child enhance her understanding of what she’s feeling and why, how to handle those feelings, and how to respond to the situation flexibly. Suggest many different resources and possibilities instead of one habitual, instinctive response. In other words, help your child expand herself awareness and her emotional repertoire.

For example: if your child comes in crying because her friend won’t play with her and she goes off and sulks, you want to help her understand: You’re hurt because Sally wouldn’t play with you and you got angry. Then help her think of something to do that will calm her down. You might suggest she play with her favourite toys for a while. Later you can help her think about the many different ways of responding to the situation, not just the one she has instinctively chosen withdrawing and sulking. Use that situation as an opportunity for your child to learn.

For instance, the minute you pick up a crying baby and soothe her, she’s learning how to soothe herself. The minute you point out to a toddler that when he does something mean to another kid, it makes that kid feel bad, you taught an important lesson in emotional intelligence. And those aren’t hard things to do.

Dealing with aggressive instincts in children
Its impossible to say how much aggression and the ability to control it is a matter of individual personality and how much its influenced by upbringing and other factors. What’s certain though, is that a parent’s attitude and behaviour, as well as that of other people, will play a large part. It’s aggression in its most creative form that drives a small baby quite rightly to assert its independence from its mother. If a mother encourages this response the child will group up to use that drive to advantage in mastering any new activity, getting to grips with a new job for instance. But that early aggressive response is thwarted if a mother clings to her child and refuses to allow him to grow away from her. Then the child becomes frustrated and then angry and the positive aggression is turned into a negative aggression and destructive force.

At the same time as encouraging the positive drive, parents have to discourage the destructive elements. If a child learns that getting angry always means he gets his own way, he is not going to bother to control his anger. Many of the people who are clearly more aggressive than others (in terms of competitiveness and determination as well as violence) have become so because their early experiences rewarded this type of behaviour. So, someone who belonged to a large family may have found that the only way to get noticed was to shout or hit someone. Or his parents may have been very keen on academic success and instilled in him the wish to succeed from very early on.

Most experts now stress the importance of finding the cause of aggression. So parents should always try to find what behind a child aggressive behaviour as well as try to overcome or control it.

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