January 20, 2009

My article

As promised, the article I wrote became subscriber content only so I am reposting it here as well.   It's not as pretty, but the words are the same.  

Emotionally Intelligent Parenting

"Emotional intelligence involves being aware of one's own feelings and being able to manage them effectively and being able to respond appropriately to other's feelings. This awareness of feelings in oneself and in others should lead to quality relationships. Emotionally intelligent parenting focuses this awareness in our relationships with our children, but it doesn’t stop there. It extends to helping our children develop their own good relationships with others."  Marilyn Robb

Emotional intelligence (EI) is my favorite phrase right now.  I began looking into EI a year and a half ago, around the same time I was introduced to Leadership Education.  I soon realized that I would have to be a different parent if I wanted my kids to become leaders.  I could get my own education and I could stop requiring them to learn, but I wasn't going to inspire them unless I could communicate with them.   There are criticisms that claim EI is just pop psychology, but I've been reading and putting into practice what I learn with positive results.

Rewards and punishments were the foundation of how I disciplined. I praised an accomplishment and withheld praise if it could be improved, giving advice or lectures instead.  I punished misbehavior.   Then I read Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards.   He writes that praising and rewarding good behavior has the exact opposite effect on children, and damages self-esteem.  You may get short term benefits, but the long term damage isn't worth it.  In some ways, rewards can be worse than punishments, which are also ineffective.  Then I read Kohn's Unconditional Parenting.  I really liked it, but there weren't enough examples.  I was left feeling that I knew what I wanted to do, but not how.  A year would pass before I found out how to be an emotionally intelligent parent.  There is a list at the end of the many wonderful books I have read that give hundreds of dialogues and ideas for how to talk to children in ways that preserve their self-esteem and dignity. 

So how do you praise children?  One way to build self-esteem in children is by letting them overhear their accomplishments when you tell others.  It's better than praising them to their face because that can seem insincere.  I am making it a habit to call a relative once a day and tell them, within earshot of the kids, something that they did that day. 

-Mom, you should have seen Nick today, he read The Cat in the Hat to the girls while I was paying the bills.  He was a huge help!
-Brian, you'll be so proud to hear that Elly used the potty three times today all by herself!
-I just wanted to tell you that your granddaughter, Stella, is using some pretty big words these days!  She's really growing up!

What about where improvement is needed?  One of the books gives a specific example of poor handwriting and how to address it, while preserving the child's self-esteem.  Instead of pointing out the mistakes, look only for the things that are done well and make statements about those. 

-I see you spelled 'Grandma' correctly.
-Your A's are all neat and straight.
-All of your words are even on the lines.
-This note is grammatically correct.

Even if you see very little that is right, there is probably something you can talk about.  Don't mention the mistakes and errors.  As they improve, you'll have more to say until one day, "Wow, this letter is written beautifully!  I see no mistakes!" etc.  As with anything else, when they feel that it is important to express themselves clearly and properly, they will put the time and effort into learning.  I think if you spend their Core and LoL phases nurturing this self-esteem, when you get to Scholar Phase they will want someone there to critique them.  It will be so important to them that they get it right, they will beg you to make sure it is. 

It is also important to encourage them to look for their own answers by not answering all of their questions.  Give them a chance to figure it out for themselves first.  It's not as easy as it sounds.   So many times I just pop out that answer without thinking.  My kids are so used to me doing their thinking that they get really upset when I won't.  Sometimes they just completely give up, but I am beginning to see them come back and try again.  They are just too curious to not know something!  I get these a lot during the day:

-Can I watch t.v.? 
Can you?
I don't know, can I?
What do you think?
I want you to tell me!
Well think about it for a minute, then tell me what you think the answer is.
We haven't done our reading yet today, so I guess we should do that first.  (Yippee!!)

-Mom, the girls destroyed my robot again, can't you make them stop?
What would you like me to do?
When the girls get my robot, tell them to stop!
Is there a way we can keep the girls from getting the robot?
You already know the answer to that! (he's getting frustrated)
Yes, I do know how we can keep your robots safe.
Mom!  Help me!
What can we do about this?
Fine!  I'll put my robots in my room when I'm not playing with them.  (stomping off to his room) 

-Mommy, I need you to put my pants on!
Putting your pants on can be really tough. 
Yeah, I need help.
Where are your pants?
In my drawer.
Why don't you go get them and start pulling them on, ok?
Ok!  (then she comes back out with the pants on)
Mommy!  I did it all by myself.  It wasn't so hard!

The last example is the crux of EI parenting.  If you acknowledge their struggle and frustration, they feel like you understand them and are willing to give it another try.  I have had the most amazing results when I've just taken the time to listen and empathize with how tough something is.  It's diffused many situations. 

What about misbehavior?  We can't let children get away with everything, can we?  Having clear rules and limits, giving real choices, and natural consequences are the tools a parent has for handling undesirable behavior.  Another key is to allow yourself to have negative emotions.  Children should know when they have made their parents upset.  Make sure to put the emphasis on the behavior and not on the child.  It will seem at first like they are getting away with everything, but they will soon realize that disappointing mom and dad is punishment enough.

These points are a very broad overview of how to parent with empathy.  There is so much more information in the books, that I can't do it justice here.  I have learned so much and yet, this is only the beginning.  My biggest struggle is that it doesn't come naturally and I make mistakes constantly.  The most important point to remember is that it's a marathon, not a sprint.  Emotionally intelligent parenting is a lifetime commitment to the emotional well-being of the little people that I am raising.  In some ways I feel that raising children with good emotional health is even more important than a great education.  After all, it's their humanity that is at stake. 

Further Reading*

Between Parent and Child  and Teacher and Child by Haim Ginott   The second book is out of print, but your library should have it.  Dr. Ginott is widely thought to be the father of emotionally intelligent parenting concepts. 
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish  I found this book to be the most helpful, with real language I could use.  There was a chapter on assigning roles to children that was really eye opening.  They also wrote How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk ,  Siblings Without Rivalry , How to Talk So Kids Will Learn , and Liberated Parents, Liberated Children

Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman   

Unconditional Parenting, Punished by Rewards , and Beyond Discipline by Alfie Kohn  His book on the school system, The Schools Our Children Deserve, I thought went well with TJEd though he never once mentions homeschooling.

Emotionally Intelligent Parenting by Maurice Elias

*There are MANY more books out there.  Daniel Goleman has written several books on emotional intelligence that are geared toward adult relationships, but it's probably a good idea to treat everyone better, not just our kids. 


  1. Thank you, I found this article very helpful -- especially the concrete examples. I'm not too familiar with emotional intelligence (I spend most of my spare time reading math books), but many of the things you said are things I've been trying to come to grips with myself.

    I've long thought that excessive direct praise did awful things to kids. It teaches them to measure their worth by others opinions, it leaves them wondering what they need to do to get the next "good job", and it distorts their views about what things are interesting and important.

    One of the ways I think I can build my kids' self-esteem in a positive way is to take a genuine interest in what they have to say, and to take the time to work with them to build their ideas. When I do that, they know what they are doing is worthwhile.

    BTW, I've been meaning to clean up my blogroll and put you on it, but I've been a lazy blogger lately. I'll get there!

  2. Oh, I love your blog! Most of the time I have no idea what the math means, but I have bookmarked most of the pages so I can go back and look at them when I do! Thank you for the compliments on my article, it does seem to make a lot of sense when you really think about it. I've started to see praise given to me in a completely different way.

    No worries on the link!

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