Raising Emotionally Intelligent Kids Starts Early

Raising Emotionally Intelligent Kids Starts Early May 21, 2023

Many parents worry that they don’t have the skills to raise a child who is emotionally intelligent. However, being a parent who teaches by example and uses emotional coaching are gifts that all parents can give their kids. It starts early, with using language that includes emotions, such as saying to a child who is crying, “You seem sad, what is going on?” Children of all ages respond positively to parents who tune into their emotions and validate them. Parents can also use feeling words to describe their own day to day experiences.

In a recent article for his website, Dr. John Gottman, Ph.D, delves into a the topic of emotional intelligence. Drawing on his own extensive body of work, Dr. Gottman references his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child to unpack insights about the child-parent relationship borne of years of clinical research.

Dr. Gottman writes that “when it comes to parenting and emotional intelligence, there are two groups of parents that are so very different when it comes to the world of emotions. Emotion Dismissing parents are action-oriented, and don’t want to become emotional, and they see this as potentially destructive in themselves and in their children. Emotion Coaching parents are the opposite: accepting of emotions and explore emotions in themselves and others.”

Indeed, these observations are enlightening and make clear two facts: first, that “children of the two kinds of parents were on totally different life trajectories,” their path informed by their environment and the particular qualities of the parent-child dynamic. Second, Dr. Gottman discovered that, remarkably, “these results all appear to be cross-culturally universal.” That is, no matter where in the world a child grows up, the nature of the parenting they receive cuts across cultural and socioeconomic divides.

In breaking down the clearly positive approach of Emotion Coaching parents, Dr. Gottman notes that “emotions are our internal ‘GPS’ through life. Opening up our own emotional world and being emotional is where we need to start, and it confers huge gifts.” The path toward being an Emotion Coaching parents begins “with one’s self. It is important to understand one’s own feelings about emotions, and to learn that self-understanding comes from recognizing one’s own feelings.”

And it should come as no surprise that tapping into one’s emotional intelligence as a north star in the approach to parenting starts early. Dr. Gottman writes that “evidence shows that emotion coaching begins in the way parents interact with their babies,” as “babies can understand language long before they can talk.”

Employing emotional intelligence in parenting is built on a foundation of self-awareness and open communication, and Emotion Coaching parents often foster an environment of respect and emotional reciprocity. To put a finer point on it, Dr. Gottman writes that “one of the most powerful gifts you can give your child is an admission that you made a mistake, and apologizing and asking for forgiveness confers respect to the child. The child learns that it is okay to make a mistake and correct it. The child learns that it is possible to repair interaction. And the child feels that their emotions are respected and that you, instead of being authoritative, are capable of being an emotional equal.”

And while emotional intelligence is impactful from birth, it’s also clear that it is “never too late to become an emotion coaching parent.” In his practice, Dr. Gottman has found that repairing a mistake is possible in the context of parenting as well. In the end, it’s critical to recognize that “emotional intelligence is not a static trait—it can be cultivated and learned at any point in life, by anyone, to their benefit and the benefit of those they interact with.”

Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 

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