One of the most impactful and talked about consequences of the COVID-19 Crisis is that hundreds of thousands of children are spending more time with their siblings and parents. Normally, they would be spending 6 hours per day at school, but now they are at home.
Whether you are a working parent or not, you are probably stressed out and exhausted. Please know, you have the sympathy of virtually all the people out there who have ever raised kids.
Spending so much time at home is not typical of today’s families and it is, without a doubt, a major challenge for all. But I want you to know that this crisis is also an opportunity.
This crisis offers you a chance to give your children an amazing leg-up on life. You can use this extra time to teach your children about emotion.
Having a good understanding of the world of feelings, also known as “emotional intelligence,” has been found by research to be an invaluable life skill, contributing more to happiness and success in adulthood than even general IQ or intellectual intelligence.
Just as important is the fact that, since emotions drive behavior and are the glue of all relationships, responding to your child’s emotions truly makes parenting easier. Making the changes we will talk about here can substantially improve your child’s behavior as well as their relationship with you.
If you are feeling doubt as you’re reading this, I hope you will humor me and try anyway. I believe you will then find out that it is true.
But before we talk about your children or your parenting, we must first spend a few minutes talking about you. Please consider these 3 questions and do your best to answer them before you read on.
3 Questions About You
- When you were a child growing up, were your parents emotionally aware? Did they notice what you were feeling, and respond to your feelings by naming them and validating them?
- When you were a child, did you feel comfortable going to your parents for emotional reassurance, help, and support?
- As an adult, would you describe yourself as generally aware of what you are feeling and why? Are you good at putting your feelings into words and expressing them? Do your emotions guide your decisions and help you make good ones for yourself? In other words, do you feel that you have good, solid emotional intelligence?
Now, here’s something interesting. If you answered “yes” to the first two questions above, chances are very, very high that you also answered “yes” to #3. Why? Because emotionally attuned, emotionally intelligent parents raise emotionally attuned, emotionally intelligent kids. And so on, and so on, emotional intelligence automatically gets passed down as parents naturally and healthfully notice, validate and respond to their children’s feelings.
Now, here’s something even more interesting. The reverse is also true. If your parents have a blind spot to emotions, they will not “see” or respond to your feelings enough. This will result in you growing up with your own blind spots to emotions. And so on and so on, around and around it goes.
It’s called Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. It silently transfers from one generation to the next, unbeknownst to even loving parents who are trying their best. CEN is rampant in today’s world, and it’s usually no one’s fault. If you suspect that this could be happening in your family, I want you to know that it is not your fault.
It’s really not your fault. It just is what it is.
But that is not the end of the story. You have a wonderful opportunity right now to reverse the CEN that has been passed down to you. You can stop the cycle. By doing 5 small steps, you can use this time on lockdown to teach the foundational skills of emotional intelligence to your children.
How to Teach Your Kids About Emotions
- If you are not sure about your answers to the 3 questions above, take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. You can find the link below in the Bio (it’s free). Scoring high on the ENQ is an indication that you grew up with some Emotional Neglect and did not have the opportunity to learn the skills that make up emotional intelligence.
- Read through the list of emotion words to increase your vocabulary. You can find this list in its complete form in the back of the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect but you can also download an abridged version HERE. This will prepare you to do step 3, next.
- Pay attention to what your child is feeling. Regardless of the age of your child, it is natural to focus mostly on how your child acts and what your child does. Now, make a special effort to identify what he/she feels. This is extremely helpful because actions and behaviors are driven by feelings. So addressing your child’s feelings is the best way to affect their behavior.
- Begin to try to name what you perceive your child feeling while they are feeling it. Check with them to see if your perception is right.
- Validate your child’s feelings when you see them. This means letting your child know that it’s OK what they are feeling and that their feelings are understandable, even if you disagree with them. Remember that your children cannot choose their feelings.
- You seem sad. What’s going on?
- You’re angry, right? And I can understand why you would be.
- You just said that with a wistful tone.
- If I were you, I’d feel really let down right now. Is that what you’re feeling?
By following these 5 steps, you can teach your children that their feelings are real, that they make sense, and that they matter. This will lay the foundation for your child’s emotional intelligence.
And Now Back to You Again
And now, I want to point out that there is a child inside of you who went through childhood with their feelings under-noticed, under-named, and under-validated. This launched you into adulthood lacking crucial emotion skills. So I ask you to do one more important task.
I would like you to re-read Steps 1 through 5 but replace “your child” with “you.” The more you can pay attention to your own feelings, name them, and validate them the better you will be able to do this for your children.
Childhood Emotional Neglect probably started long before your great-great-grandparents. Emotional intelligence, however, starts with you.
Perhaps you can create some silver lining out of the hardship of this pandemic.
Putting words to your feelings and the feelings of your children, noticing them, and accepting them as valid is the beginning of a new life for yourself and your kids. You can use this extra family time to reverse generations of emotional emptiness and eventually launch your kids into adulthood with the opposite of what you grew up with: emotional attunement, emotional validation, emotional recognition. Emotional intelligence.