Family Life, Parenting, Stages, Wellness

Parenting with Courage: Emotional Intelligence

We are now in our third installment of our four-article series on Parenting with Courage. In month one, we explored values-based parenting, where you spent time clarifying your family’s unique values. Last month, we delved into the first pillar of the Courageous Parents framework, that “every behavior is the result of an unmet need.” You committed to putting on your detective hat when your child is struggling to get underneath their behavior and find the unmet need. This month, we’ll explore the second pillar of the Courageous Parents framework, that “connection is the foundation for thriving.” Before we do this, let’s reground ourselves in the overall goal of the Courageous Parents framework. That is, to find a values-based approach to parenting where you can access ease, joy, and self-trust by parenting with awareness and choice, rather than constantly being reactive.

Now, let’s get into this month’s pillar of Courageous Parents: connection is the foundation for thriving. I argue (and many researchers and child development experts would agree), that more important than just about ANYTHING else you may do as a parent, is your commitment to maintaining and repairing a strong and authentic connection with your child. This is a big idea, so let’s break it down.
Countless studies have shown that a strong caregiver-child connection forms the foundation for developing emotional intelligence. What’s more is that research indicates that children who feel securely attached to at least one caregiver tend to have better emotional regulation, resilience, self-worth, empathy, and social skills. Essentially, connection is what nurtures emotional intelligence in your child.
Imagine a world where your child is equipped with the emotional tools to navigate life’s twists and turns. Afterall, what is resilience, if not the ability to navigate the really hard experiences that life will inevitably throw at us with an ability to stay present, and without needing to tap out, numb, or use unhealthy coping mechanisms?

This is the magic of emotional intelligence. Picture them confidently managing their emotions, fostering healthy relationships, and expressing empathy towards others. On the flip side, failing to prioritize and nurture the connection between you and your child can leave them ill-equipped for the emotional challenges that lie ahead. Two things are true – the stakes are high AND there is so much you can do to foster this connection, regardless of your children’s ages.

Through loving interactions, attuned responsiveness, and quality time, you create a safe space where their emotional needs are met. This then forms the bedrock for them to explore their feelings, develop self-awareness, and understand the emotions of both themselves and others.

To illustrate this further, let’s talk about Will, a dedicated father who came to work with me when he found himself unable to support his five-year-old son through some pretty intense meltdowns.

Through our work, he came to understand the importance of connection in fostering not only his son’s emotional intelligence, but also in gaining his son’s cooperation.

Over time, Will was able to prioritize three things that made a huge difference in his relationship with his son, as well as his son’s willingness to cooperate with his daily requests (things like getting his shoes on, going to the dinner table, and turning off the TV).
First, Will made it a priority to engage daily in what I call “delighted time-in,” where he left his phone in the other room and entered his son’s world to play with him, while also delighting in what his son was doing.

Second, Will changed the way he made requests of his son. Instead of shouting from the other room, “turn off the TV and come to the table!,” Will started taking just a few extra seconds to walk over to where his son was, sit down with him, and take an interest in whatever his son was doing. He would then offer a playful way for them to get to the dinner table (“shall we do rocket ship or spin while we walk?”). Will realized that while he thought doing this was going to take extra time, it actually SAVED him time because he often only had to ask once. (Most importantly, it also preserved the connection between Will and his son).

Lastly, Will started apologizing to his son when he found himself losing his cool and yelling. Will would circle back with his son to say, “I’m sorry,” and would also invite his son to share how he felt when Will yelled. Through these moments of connection, Will witnessed the frequency, intensity, and duration of his son’s meltdowns drastically reduced, as he blossomed into a compassionate and emotionally-intelligent young soul. Their bond became a safe place where emotions were embraced, believed, and even celebrated.

As you move through parenting, remember that emotional intelligence is not about shielding your children from negative emotions, but rather about equipping them with the tools to navigate and understand their emotions. And importantly, remember that this is developed in our children through their caregivers fostering a safe space where vulnerability is embraced, and empathy is modeled.

As we continue to nurture the bond we have with our children, and apologize when there is an inevitable rupture, we uncover a parenting approach filled with confidence, warmth, and connection.

While this may sound simple, it’s certainly not easy! The truth is, we were never taught how to do this. Many of us also never had this modeled to us. You should know it’s okay to reach out if you are in need of support in the connection between you and your child(ren).

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