Meditation and non-violent communication were part of the core curriculum in my daughter’s kindergarten class.
There were murmurs that this kind of “hippie school” wouldn’t prepare kids for the real world. Not enough academic rigor. Too much time spent in the woods.
And yet my daughter learned things that took me most of my adolescence to learn.
Things like self-soothing. Self-confidence. Speaking up for herself.
I remember being afraid of my teachers at that age. I did what I was told. I was afraid of getting anything wrong. I still remember being told off by one kindergarten aide for not being able to recite my home address.
That old-fashioned education prepared me perfectly for a lifetime of workaholism and perfectionism. I’m still afraid of getting it wrong. I feel anxiety when I don’t do what I’m told.
I don’t want to pass that down to my daughter.
I want her to embrace her mistakes, like Steve Jobs did. I want her to have a full and balanced life, free from burn-out or stress-related health issues. I want her to be successful in the way Ariana Huffington defines success: well- being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.
So how do I do that?
I prioritize her emotional intelligence.
It took a bestselling book by Daniel Goleman to wake up the world to something most of us knew intuitively:
Emotional intelligence matters.
In fact, the research is now clear that your EQ (emotional intelligence) gets you further in life than your IQ (intellectual knowledge).
EQ training company TalentSmart found that having a strong EQ is worth an extra $29,000/year. If you’re a top performer in your field, chances are you’ve got a high level of emotionally intelligence.
But what about IQ? Isn’t that important, too?
Not as much as you’d think.
Having an average IQ is enough to excel in most jobs. In fact, average folks actually do better than high-IQ folks 70% of the time.
Goleman wouldn’t be surprised. He believes that IQ represents only 20% of the factors that make a life successful.
So why does our education system focus so heavily on IQ at the expense of EQ?
Well, it’s easy to teach math, science, or reading to kids. But who teaches kids about emotions?
We now know that one of THE most important skills a child can acquire is the ability to regulate his or her emotions.
It’s not an easy skill to master, even with expert coaching.
That’s because a child’s brain is slow to mature in this area. It’s easier to acquire language than to learn how to express feelings in a healthy way.
Dr. Ross A. Thompson of Zero to Three believes that most parents overestimate their child’s ability to rein in negative emotions.
It’s not easy for a preschooler to calmly and firmly state, “I would like that toy, please,” when every fiber of his body is screaming, “Gimme that toy, NOW!”
Kids behave impulsively. They react without thinking. Their feelings are right on the surface. They don’t know how to calm themselves down.
None of which means they’re BAD. They simply haven’t developed the skills to emotionally regulate themselves. Their brains might not be mature enough yet.
They have to learn how to deal with their emotions somewhere…
And the primary way they learn it is through YOU.
Kids rely on parents to model good emotional intelligence for them.
By practicing good emotional intelligence ourselves, we teach our children how to explain what they’re feeling, self-soothe, and problem-solve.
Famed psychological researcher Dr. John Gottman urges parents to be an “emotion coach.” See your child’s negative emotions as an opportunity to connect and teach, not as a problem to fixed.
Your job as a parent is twofold, he says: “being aware of your child’s feelings, and being able to empathize, soothe and guide them.”
This doesn’t mean getting angry at your child for emotionally acting out. Your child isn’t behaving this way in order to irritate you or make life inconvenient. Rather, your child is in the grips of some pretty powerful emotions that he doesn’t know what to do with.
Nor does this mean dismissing your child’s feelings. When faced with a child screaming bloody murder over a scraped knee, it can be tempting to say, “Come on, it can’t be that bad.” YOU wouldn’t react that way over something so minor.
But your child isn’t you.
And children FEEL their feelings.
It also doesn’t mean distracting your child so that the awful feelings are over quicker. “Here, have a cookie.” Yes, distraction works, but it doesn’t teach a child anything.
As an emotion coach, your job is to use the experience as a lesson in understanding emotions.
Sit with your child. Find out what they’re feeling. If they don’t know, help them. You might try saying, “If I were you, I think I would be feeling X. Does that sound right to you?”
Give your child a range of emotional vocabulary words. Start out with the simple ones like afraid, angry, disgusted, sad, or surprised. Then add nuance. If your child is feeling sad, is she also feeling insecure, rejected, hurt or humiliated?
Let your child know that you understand how she feels. “I can see why you’d feel that way. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably feel exactly the same.”
Validating your child’s feelings lets her know that you hear her. And children who feel heard are much better at regulating their feelings in the long run.
But don’t stop there.
Think of a way forward. What can you do to make this situation more bearable? Ask your child to brainstorm ideas with you. A tantruming child will want you to buy that toy, but you still need to set limits. No toy, but maybe a cuddle might help?
Ultimately, your goal is to see your child express how he’s feeling in clear language and ask for what he needs.
Given that many grown adults can’t do that yet, it’s a BIG ask.
But with emotionally intelligent parents, who knows how far these kids will go?