"Marsha Jacobson does parents a great favor."
October 30th, 2014 ¦ Marsha Jacobson -
Many have tried but not succeeded in understanding emotional intelligence and more specifically, how we can raise it in our kids. The way we work is complex beyond words so words that try and tie EI into a neat package, fail. The best we can do is talk about aspects of EI and we shouldn’t claim to be able to do anything else.
So what do we know? We know that measures of IQ alone cannot accurately predict a person’s success. We know that definitions of success vary greatly between people who talk about it. We know that other factors like kindness, empathy, perseverance and social competence contribute equally, if not more to the prediction of success. We know that people in the field of psychology combine these characteristics in various ways, to define Emotional Intelligence.
However, the complexity of this subject shouldn’t detract from its importance or our efforts to continue to examine each aspect. We simply need to be honest and not “factualize” that which is at best an informed opinion. Many great insights have come from minds not reliant on scientific research but from the wisdom of a life lived. And what’s wrong with that? Must we only focus on that which can be placed neatly into the parameters of the controls required from traditional science? To take this approach in the field of Psychology would leave us sadly lacking and with not much to talk about! So there it is -my preamble to a discussion on perseverance.
“I can’t do it!” Growing up, whenever I spoke these words, the adults in my life would become angry and tell me that “can’t” is not a word that should be in the English dictionary. I hated hearing that but can say with confidence today that I have great perseverance. But here’s the thing. That response was a decree for our entire generation and while I, and many others developed perseverance, there were as many who didn’t. For my children’s generation, we went to the other extreme (a generational rebellion) and helicoptered our children, providing solutions for them at every turn. Some of them developed perseverance and others didn’t. What made the difference?
I’m going to go out on a limb here, with research-less intuition. I think that everyone is born with the ability to develop perseverance. Like all characteristics, however, we all have different starting points. See for yourself. Offer two babies a small challenge, like a toy slightly out of their reach, and observe how long they each persist in trying to get it. Understanding their differences is key to successful parenting. Individual differences must produce tailor-made parenting if we are going to allow our children to reach their potential. I feel pretty certain that I was a persistent baby so regardless of the parenting approach used on me, I was bound to develop perseverance. The challenge then is to help children who need it more and it seems to me that both generations failed in this regard.
We cannot, in any aspect of parenting, adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. A child who struggles with persistence will learn nothing from a scolding and also nothing from a parent who removes the source of her frustration. What we can do is try and see the world from that child’s perspective and help them put words to it. This is called mirroring.
In short, mirroring is when our response allows our child to feel heard. For example, if your child finds drawing a circle difficult and becomes angry, your response may be something like: “You’re trying so hard to make a good circle and it just won’t work the way you want it to! That must be making you feel so mad!!” Be sure to inject the appropriate emotion. Mirroring is different to reflecting, which simply lets your child know that you understand they’re feeling bad. Think of it from an adult perspective. When you’re upset, do you want to be understood or placated?
Mirroring can often feel counter-intuitive, particularly with a very upset child. Our instinct is to calm them with platitudes followed by reassurances or suggestions about looking on the bright side of life. With four kids I’ve tried both approaches, and while the second has made me feel better and, in the moment, my child, the mirroring approach has had far greater, long-lasting results. When children learn to understand what makes them tick, they create a solid foundation from which they can figure out solutions that are specific to them.
The magic of parenting happens when we place more importance on following our child’s lead and less on the latest parenting trend.