Why emotional intelligence matters
If you’re like me, you live in a very cognitive world. If someone asks me a question such as what I think about the current state of play of parenting I’d probably respond on a cognitive level. “I think that it’s trickier raising kids today because of the massive rate of change, and the personal nature of communication technology makes relationship-building harder….” And away I’ll go. I don’t often answer on emotional level such as “It saddens me that many parents don’t experience the same freedom to parent that past generation did.”
Emotions are information
As a parent your emotions as well as your child’s emotions give you information that directs your parenting behaviour. Your annoyance about a child’s behaviour provides important information about the nature and purpose of the behaviour. Your child’s feelings displayed either physically (slumped shoulders due to disappointment or jumping up and down with excitement) or verbally (“I’m annoyed that my sister won’t play with me.”) provide cues about how you should handle a situation. It’s easy to take your cues from kids’ behaviour or language, and at the same time ignore their emotional response. Emotionally intelligent parenting means we consciously take in the emotional cues that children provide, as well as the cognitive and behaviour cues.
Emotions have influence
Emotions have enormous influence personally and socially. In particular, emotions impact on children in these ways:
- Retention, memory and learning: A child doesn’t learn in a vacuum, free from their feelings and moods. You’ll know from first hand experience that a child who is happy and content is more likely to learn than one who is agitated, anxious or depressed. When children are overwhelmed by emotion it’s difficult to think straight; memory and other cognitive functions usually head south when emotions, whether pleasant or unpleasant run high.
- Decision-making and judgement: Ever sent off an email in a fit of rage, only to regret it later? If so, you’ve experienced how poor our judgement can be when our emotions get the better of us. Reflection and thinking through options goes out the window when we are under emotional duress. Similarly, children make bad decisions when they are under stress, or experiencing the extremes of emotions. Being able to reign in and regulate how they feel means children are able to make better, more thoughtful decisions.
- The quality of personal relationships: Friendships, family and partner relationships thrive on predictability. We need to be able to predict how others react, and when people act on extreme emotion, or they can’t regulate their emotions, relationships become tricky. It’s not just unpredictability that makes relationships challenging. Anyone who has lived with a continuously angry, anxious or sad person will know that relationships operate on shaky ground. The ability to bring balance to your emotional life will invariably result in more positive relationships.
- Physical and mental health: If anger is your constant companion then it’s hard to stay healthy. Your blood pressure is affected; your mental state is impacted negatively and your well-being will be poor. Quite simply, the state of your emotions impacts on your total health. But it’s in the area of anxiety management that emotional intelligence is vital. A child needs to be able to recognise his moods before he can attempt to manage, regulate or change them.
- Overall effectiveness: I’m amazed how more productive I am when I pay heed to my emotional state. For instance, as a presenter I welcome the nervous tension I feel before a talk. If it’s not there, then I know that I won’t perform to my best. Emotional readiness holds true for children and teens. Before they are to perform any task – whether at school, in sport or in the arts – the ability to manage their moods, their nerves and even their enthusiasm will increase their overall effectiveness.
Emotional intelligence benefits kids in so many ways, yet we’ve been slow to develop it in children and young people. I suspect that most parents intuitively know that emotional smarts is beneficial but they are unsure how to introduce it into their parenting.
Start by tuning into your own emotional life and gradually turn your attention to that of your children. You’ll be amazed how even this small step will have a huge impact on you, your parenting and your kids’ overall happiness and well-being.
Find out more about emotional intelligence with our webinar Developing Emotional Intelligence in Children