As parents, we want our children to grow into healthy, happy, well-rounded people who can overcome adversity and contribute in positive ways to the world around them. An endless debate continues to rage over how much of a child’s approach to life is determined by nature versus nurture, and how much impact parenting has on any child’s trajectory.
Let’s assume that parents exert tremendous influence and therefore are well advised to develop approaches to nurturing their children that increase the odds of developing fully functioning adults.
A recent article on the PsychCentral website offers a useful frame for thinking about how to develop emotional intelligence (EQ) and resilience in your child. The frame is deceptively simple, describing three “stay withs” that parents can foster.
The first is stay with the feeling. “Emotions are the glue for experience and learning how the feeling is embodied helps children make sense of and make meaning in their world,” writes psychiatrist John C. Panepinto. “It also opens them to the world of others as empathy grows from this reflective process.”
Some parents move quickly away from the emotional foundation of an experience to helping a child make meaning of it. That’s not always the best approach, Panepinto argues:
Adults, because of their higher level of cognitive development, typically engage content, language, and attend to problem solving. That may define many adult interactions, but in the parent-child relationship the source of EQ is providing a mirror for the child to internalize experience. A simple, “I see you feel frustrated,” goes much further in developing awareness and EQ than shifting immediately to advice-giving or fixing things.
The second is stay with the challenge. Writes Panepinto:
While there is no need to go looking for problems, we can engage the challenges we face as something that will make us smarter or stronger in some way—for that is the lesson of experience. Some of our greatest growth started with a problem and challenge is always at the edge of development. So why rob children of the chance to learn from the problem-solving process?
Parents came help children stick with challenges by first acknowledging the emotion a challenge can surface. It’s important not to jump in to ‘make it better.’ Instead, ask a child to propose a solution, and say something like ‘I wonder if that will work. Let’s try it.’
“…emotional resilience develops from staying with and going through challenges,” Panepinto says.
Finally, stay with the connection. It’s really as simple as being with your children, with your undivided attention
Most of connection is beyond words and children learn from modeling, imitation, and the back and forth of shared attention. Mirror neurons enable us to experience each other’s internal states. All this requires consistent quality time, face to face, and without distractions…EQ grows from self-awareness to other-awareness and these intimate parent-child moments deeply engrain the mental models of healthy relationships.