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December 2011 Meeting Summary

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent child
Summary of December Better mommies meeting which was held at Hakawati.

By Dr.Haneen Jarrar

Raising a child that is healthy is one of our main concerns as parents and moms; the next thing we’re concerned with is raising a child who is emotionally and socially developed and furthermore emotionally intelligent.
Emotions intelligence is a term that has been in psychology for a long time but has recently gotten a lot of publicity after the success of Dr. Gottman’s book emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is defined as a skill or ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.
What is the importance of emotional intelligence in psychology and for children specifically?

It was found that children who are emotionally coached tend to be better learners, more successful at work and in their relationships, How do we know this? In psychology RESEARCH is the main tool we use to get our information.
What these researchers have discovered is that there are two major kinds of parents:

One kind of parents have this attitude that negative emotions are a pain in the neck , you really didn’t want to have negative emotions, you didn’t want to be sad, you didn’t want to be afraid, you didn’t want to be angry, you didn’t want to be disgusted those were bad emotions to have and so they believed that just like wearing a shirt you can decide what emotion to have , so why have a sad emotion or an angry emotion when you can have a happy emotion so they would wanted to kick off the negative emotions and believe that positive thinking can overcome their negative emotions so they SUPRESS their emotions even if they felt sad or angry they wouldn’t show it on their faces, of course physiologically they would show it , cause u cant banish an emotion.
These parents believed that the more their child spent time in negative emotion the more toxic it is for the child, these parents are seen as emotion dismissing parents or disapproving of negative emotions.
Some parents would punish a child if a child was angry, even if there was no misbehaviour they thought being angry is so bad they didn’t want their kids to be out of control, they believed that if they can change their emotions they would be more successful in life.
They can be very warm in their interactions with their kids: “what’s the matter sweetheart?
Aww don’t be sad, it’s not worth crying about put a smile on your face”, so emotion dismissing parents are not cold or mean but they believed that if they can put their children in a different state it will be much healthier for their children, also they tended not to notice milder negative emotions in their kids , Children with emotion dismissing parents have to really escalate their negative emotions to get noticed.

These parents were also easily irritated with their children’s negative emotion so they did not tolerate their children being angry or upset or afraid and they really saw introspecting which is looking inside yourself to find out why you’re sad as a waste of time, since you have the choice to be happy, introspecting is like dwelling on your negative emotion.

The other type of parents that these researchers studied is called emotion coaching parents and they had a different attitude towards emotions:
They thought that emotions are like your GLOBAL POSITIONING SYSTEM in life its your GPS, so if you’re sad that means something it means that something is missing in your life, so think about what’s missing and how you need to fill that sadness or if you’re angry, that probably means that you have a goal that’s being blocked or frustrated, so what’s your goal and what’s blocking it?

There’s good information on your state from your emotions:
If you’re feeling afraid then probably your world is not very safe so you think about how you can make your world safer, and what is it that’s making you feel insecure?
These emotion coaching parents noticed more low intensity emotions in themselves and children, interestingly enough they had a much more developed vocabulary for their emotions and saw these emotional moments as opportunities for emotional connection and intimacy with their kids, and btw also with their partner not just with their child so if they saw their partner sad, they would say:”what the matter habibi you look sad?” So they would ask questions about it.
They were not impatient with their child’s negative emotions; instead they showed understanding and empathy and tried to get their child to use verbal labels for what they feel.
We as psychologists think this is important, because the language centres are located on the left side of the Brain and a lot of the emotions that we process are in the right side of the brain, so if u put words to these natural emotions, it becomes a bi-lateral brain experience and you get a sense of control and empowerment over the situation and over the negative emotions.
Another thing that they did is that they empathized with the emotion even if there was a misbehaviour : so lets say the two brothers are playing and the child kicks off his brothers blocks cause he was angry with the brother, the mom would say : “ you know , he makes me angry a lot of times , I can understand why you got angry” then they would communicate the family’s values and they would set limits : “ but even though all feelings are acceptable , kicking off block and being aggressive is not acceptable in this family, we use our words we talk about how we feel , we talk about what we need , and we communicate.”
So setting limits and family values is very important, this research also showed that if parents did all steps without setting limits children would become more aggressive. Children were followed from age 3 till 15 and it was shown that their kids wind up to be more aggressive.
It turns out that the best way to set limits is your disapproval and your emotions about what’s going on, so how you feel about your child’s done so that they become more distant from you and the family.
This is proven to be more powerful that punishment and reward system were these are external, but the parent’s disapproval is internal and kids internalize the values.
The other interesting thing is that both types of parents taught their children in a different way, they were brought in and asked to teach their kids:
Emotion dismissing parents tend to give their kids a lot of information and then stood back and waited for their kids to make a mistake and then they would come in and try to be constructively critical of their children, it turns out when you are constructively critical when your child is learning something new their performance goes down , if you point out mistakes that people are doing while they’re learning they make more and more mistakes.
Emotion coaching parents were different, they weren’t concerned with their kids mistakes, they gave their children only enough information to get started, and waited for the child to do something right and then they came in and said: “that’s great, you are getting it” they were also specific in their praise not general not “you’re so smart” but rather “excellent you’re getting it now.” And then they’d give more information and their kids’ performance just went up and up.
After many years of doing this kind of research Dr. Haneen says that there’s no such thing called constructive criticism, criticism is criticism and it hurts. Kids have a heightened sense of dignity, they are very aware that they’re powerless, so when you speak with their sense of dignity it’s very powerful!
How to speak to kids:” I see the milk is spelt that’s not good here’s a rag lets clean it up “, don’t use labels, clumsy, they might believe you.
Even over-positive is harmful! The thing is that as parents we know how to do this already, we do this with our friends, like if our friend came over and forgot her umbrella were not going to call her up and say “hey reem, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU how can you be so forgetful I have to be your slave and bring you over your umbrella? I’m never inviting you over again; you’re going to turn out to be a criminal!!”
Yet we talk to our kids that way, why do we do that? Why do we treat our friends and strangers so well, yet our spouses and children so rudely??
The answer really is that parents have an agenda with every kid, so you’re worried about one kid being too generous and one kid being too stingy, you’re worried about one kid being too wimpy and not taking risks and one kid being too bold.This parental agenda gets the psychologists to be worried.
By raising these issues we as parents wind up being emotionally dismissive about the child’s feelings so what this teaches the kids is: not to not have these emotions because they’re going to have them but not to talk to you when they have these emotions or worse to lie about what’s happening so as not to talk to an emotionally dismissive parent.
Turns out those children who were emotion coached when they were followed through development were entirely on a different trajectory as kids, when they looked at two kids at age 4 who had the same IQ, the kids who was emotion coached at age 8 had better scores in math and reading than a kids who weren’t emotion coached .
This was because it was shown that children who were emotion coached really know how to down regulate their upset, they know how to self soothe and calm themselves early on and become superior at focusing attention at shifting attention and at sustaining attention ,and attention is really the shuttle between emotion and thought and emotion and cognition, So if you can focus your attention and self soothe you become a better learner, learning experience becomes personal and focused, whereas if you don’t learn how to self soothe.

NOW Most of parenting tips books and programs are about how to discipline your child, the most you’ll ever accomplish if you were completely successful is have obedient children.
Well, that’s great!! But that’s not enough , we want kids who think for themselves and even disagree with us , we want kids who are in touch with their emotions, we want our kids to be moral people to be compassionate to have a value system that we admire, to treat other people well , to have good relationships with other people, to select a husband/wife that wont beat them up, to select a non-abusive partner, we want them to have a sense of meaning in their lives, to live for things beyond themselves not be overly materialistic, to have ethics , we want sons who make excellent husbands and daughters who make successful CEOs and the magic moments where we build all that is when our kids are emotional , and they learn this by how we treat them. This is where emotional intelligence starts it starts with you......