All of you have heard about how important it is to “honor your children’s feelings.”
While this seems like a worthy endeavor, it is a rather vague notion and can easily be dismissed, especially if your child is crying or whining at the moment.
If we look at the particulars and the benefits of paying close attention to your children’s feelings, however, it may become an idea that has a great deal of merit.
We would all like to raise kids who are well-adjusted, happy, and successful. How can we improve our chances of raising kids who have these qualities?
One place to start is to acknowledge the growing body of evidence which indicates that a person’s “emotional intelligence” is of great importance. It is becoming more clear that having a high emotional intelligence is a great predictor of job success and also seems to predict one’s success in their personal life as well.
Emotional intelligence measures qualities like awareness of your own feelings, the ability to empathize with other people, listening skills, etc. Once we recognize the importance of these qualities, we can ask how fathers can help to foster these qualities in their children.
The first step in fostering emotional intelligence in your children is to make a fundamental shift in your view of parenting. Many fathers see their role as someone who responds to their children’s bad behavior, and attempts to “mold” them according to certain ideals. Not only can this be ineffective, it can actually increase the “bad” behavior by giving it extra attention.
A different way of fathering is to commit yourself to helping your children become more connected to their own emotions and to their families. It recognizes that your children will be having intense emotional experiences almost every day of their life. It calls for you to assist your kids in learning how to manage these powerful emotions and to model this behavior yourself.
It begins in your home every day. It begins when you stop dismissing your kids’ feelings by saying things like, “Come on, it’s OK, don’t cry,” or “You should want to go to your piano lesson.”
It’s very difficult to see your kids being sad or angry, and to be patient with them. But when you deny the validity of their feelings, you further disconnect your kids from being able to identify and deal with those feelings. In other words, you lower their emotional intelligence.
To raise the emotional intelligence of your kids, there are a number of things you can do.
Here are some ideas:
– Start making it a habit to identify your own feelings as well as the feelings of others. Try not to label people. Instead of saying, “He was a real jerk,” you could say, “He seemed very angry.”
– Stop trying to cheer your kids up when they are upset. They need to know their feelings are being acknowledged, and need to know you are there to listen and understand.
– Do all that you can to keep your own emotional life balanced so that you can be there for your kids. If you are overwhelmed or off balance, you cannot be a source of emotional support for your child.
– Be a great listener. When your child has something to say, try to drop what you’re doing and focus completely on what they are saying. Skillful reflection back of what they have just said to you will show them they’ve been heard, and being heard is a great help to kids wrestling with intense feelings.
– Help your kids to identify what they are feeling by being specific with your questions. It’s often helpful to ask something like, “Are you feeling sad?” or “Are you feeling picked on?” Pay attention to your child’s response to your questions or comments about their feelings. Your goal is to help your child process their feelings and to work through them, not to fix anything or to tell them if they got it “right.”
One of the most difficult things about being a father is being with children when they aren’t at their best. Whining and crying from children seems to bring out the worst in many fathers.
The great irony of this is that the more fathers encourage their kids to “get over” whatever emotional difficulties they’re having at the time, the more of these emotional difficulties will crop up.
Kids who don’t feel “heard” emotionally tend to either shut down or to get louder.
Neither of these seems like a very good choice.
Our kids would live in a happier, healthier world if they were raised in an environment in which their feelings were honored.
When dads learn the secrets of creating that environment they will be an important part of that process.