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Emotional Intelligence

Posted on 26 June 2014

Emotional Intelligence is a bit of a buzz work nowadays and people think they know what it means but aren’t really sure why it matters. Many of us value academic intelligence and encourage our children to work hard, exercise their brains and their bodies but when it comes to emotion we seem to pay scant attention. For some reason we think it is fine to leave them to their own devices. Strange this, when our emotions govern our wellbeing, our mental health and our connection to other people. And odd really when we are born so emotionally intelligent. Babies after all know exactly how they feel and don’t they let us know it? As they grow they quickly learn to smile when they are happy, frown if they are not sure of something and cry when they are physically hurt.

But gradually as they grow we seem to try to change them. We will say things like ‘don’t cry – it doesn’t hurt’ or ‘be brave’ of ‘ you can’t be hungry.’ Too much of that and we are encouraging our offspring to believe they’ve misinterpreted their own feelings, that they must be wrong and don’t know what they are talking about.

Also small children are like litmus paper; they absorb everything they hear and pick up on what’s happening around them. So if they often hear the words ‘don’t be silly ‘ or ‘be quiet, I’m busy’ they can quickly begin to believe that they are silly, noisy and a nuisance.

So they change, they adjust and shift their position a bit so they fit in better with their parents’ idea of themselves and conform to what’s expected of them. But in the process they’re gradually distancing themselves from their true feelings and their true selves.

Being Emotionally Intelligent means not only being aware of our feelings but also being able to embrace the range that life throws at us. It means understanding that it can be possible to feel good one day and bad the next without finding that a problem; that it can be possible to deal with bad feelings, understand why we have them and where they come from and learn to cope with them. It means learning to face difficult circumstances rather than running away from them, being able to go through feelings like anger and disappointment and despair without blaming other people for them or lashing out at others when we have them.

Have you ever asked yourself how it is that some children and adults become bullies? After all, anyone with any degree of empathy would never hurt another human being. But a lot of abusive behaviour can be explained away by the fact that the perpetrators probably lost touch with their own feelings long ago.

So, how can we achieve a good balance with our young children so that they grow up with a good sense of self and an ability to recognise and respond to their own feelings? They key is to catch them young. We need to encourage them to continue to listen to their feelings as they leave baby-hood behind and help them celebrate their full range of feelings. We need to support them when they feel bad as well as when they feel good: allow them to wallow in their happy times yet not to try to jolly them out of their low moments. We need to help them see that bad feelings are a normal part of life not to be denied but to be lived through and worked through. We must let them be angry if they have sufferance injustice but encourage them to vent their feelings appropriately.

It means offering them good listening. In a nutshell this means staying quiet while they talk to you, not interrupting or contradicting or urging your views on them but allowing them instead the time to explain exactly how they feel. Comments like ‘yes’ or ‘mmm’ are often best when a child tries to explore their own feelings.....such innocuous murmurings can spur them on to think more deeply about what they are trying to say and explain it better. Reflecting things back to them is another good trick – as in: ‘sounds as if that makes you feel small’ or ‘you don’t seem to like that.’ Clarify that you have understood properly by checking, as in ‘so are you saying that it feels difficult inside when X is mean to you?’

All of the above validates their feelings and means they learn that it is not only OK to have these feeling but it is also OK to talk about them with you. Let them see you upset and angry too sometimes...and observe how you deal with that. And don’t be afraid to apologise too when you think you‘ve got things wrong. Seeing you able to recognise that you have made a mistake will help them grown up more inclined to take responsibility for their own actions.

In all of these ways, if we encourage our children to stay connected to their true feelings, we are giving them a huge gift for life. This Emotional Intelligence will mean they make good friends and supportive listeners and are likely to be the most popular people they know!