How to be an Emotionally Intelligent Parent – Part I

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Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More

Emotional intelligence is one of those terms we’ve all heard but far fewer people can clearly and succinctly define it. There are two parts to being an emotionally intelligent parent:

1. You must know how to make sense of your own emotion and be able to express that emotion in a way that helps you meaningfully connect with your child.


2. You must also be able to accurately read the emotional cues your child sends (both verbally and non-verbally) and validate those feelings.

Being an emotionally intelligent parent to your child gives your child the opportunity to build emotional intelligence for themselves as they grow. Here are some of the benefits.

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Children who are emotionally intelligent:

1. Have the ability to regulate their own emotional states
2. They are better at soothing themselves when they are upset
3. They are better at focusing attention.
4. They relate better to other people – even in tough situations (teasing, peer pressure)
5. They are better at understanding other people and their feelings
6. They have better friendships with other children
7. They tend to have better grades
8. They are able to delay gratification
9. Motivate themselves
10. Read other people’s social cues
11. Cope with life’s ups and downs

Sounds easy enough, right? But, there are many obstacles that we face as parents that make it difficult to provide that sound parenting guidance our children need. Here are three of the most common obstacles.

1. Our culture’s overemphasis on mental intelligence

We all want our kids to get good grades, do well on the ACT, attend a fine college and get a land a secure and satisfying career. But, this pathway is largely about academics and it is often how we define “success.”

While we focus on academic intelligence we often unconsciously minimize the importance of emotional and social intelligence. But studies have shown that only about 20% of what makes people “successful” in life is attributed to their mental intelligence or what they learn in an academic environment. The other 80% is explained by other forces, largely focused on the qualities we describe when we talk about emotional intelligence.

In fact, self-made millionaires have been interviewed to find out which factors they believe most contributed to their success. At first glance you might think a high IQ, a stellar grade point average or graduation from a prestigious college would have given them the edge they needed to be successful. But in fact, the three most common attributes were: 1) integrity, 2) discipline, and 3) good social skills.

What do all three of these qualities have in common?

They all relate to one’s ability to tap into and regulate their inner lives. Integrity is rooted in a moral framework of how to be honest and treat others with respect. Discipline involves delaying gratification and being able to put forth a determined effort to accomplish your goal. Social skills are the ability to make and maintain relationships that are built on trust and respect.

2. We are often not connected to our own emotion

One of the core requirements of emotional intelligence is the ability to make sense of our own emotion and be able to communicate that emotion to others in a way that they can understand. As parents we are stretched and challenged in many ways. Even though we may want to stay connected to our emotion, here are some of the most common ways we disconnect from ourselves.

Perpetual busyness

With more to do than time to accomplish all that we desire, many parents are in perpetual motion. We don’t feel as though we have time to attend to our feelings. We leave little to no time for reflection and instead focus on preparing for the next thing on our agenda. This means we are living more in the future than we are in the present moment. But, we are most potent in guiding our children when we are fully present in the moment.

Focus on tasks

When we already feel fragmented, focusing on tasks helps us feel we are accomplishing something that we can quantify. In this type of task-driven environment, emotion slows us down; and doesn’t seem efficient.

Lack of modeling

There is a particularly strong pull toward tasks if you have come from a home that did not attend to emotion. In these types of homes there was a greater emphasis on doing than on the relational dynamic of how we are communicating and getting along.

Emotion is not considered a parenting “tool”

Surprisingly, much of today’s popular advice to parents ignores the world of emotions. Instead, it relies on child-rearing theories that address children’s misbehavior, but disregard the feelings that underlie that misbehavior.

Unresolved emotional issues from our family of origin

When we have unresolved issues from our past we often block ourselves off from the emotion to avoid feeling the pain that those situations might evoke. While this disengagement from our feelings might temporarily help us to remain “productive” it also keeps us from being able to engage more meaningfully on an emotional level with our children.

In part two, we will discuss the third obstacle we as parents face in our quest to be emotionally intelligent and we’ll cover 3 tips on how to cultivate emotional intelligence.

Keep Reading By Author Gary Gilles, LCPC
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