To increase our child’s emotional intelligence we must help them develop the emotional literacy or language to explore their experiences.
This learning is a little different from the kind of learning they do in school. Pens and paper are not necessary. When your child learns about herself, she must let her feelings guide her, and because her feelings are unique, this means that her learning will be unique, too. She will be her own teacher. There will be no tests or exams. Measuring her success only requires her to answer, with understanding, the simple question: How do I feel?
A good place to start is to teach your child, by example, to welcome all her feelings.
What does this mean?
When you welcome a feeling, you let it happen. The opposite of welcoming a feeling is pushing that feeling away. Sometimes a child will push a feeling away in a very direct way. For example, if something happens that upsets them, they may say things like, “I shouldn’t feel this,” or, “Stop being a baby!” At other times they push a feeling away by making themselves feel something different. For example, if a friend tells your child that you can’t join a game, they might think something like, “I don’t care,” or, “They’re just dumb!” when you really do care.
Let your child know that everybody has feelings and that it doesn’t matter whether it’s a small feeling or a big, overwhelming feeling, or whether a feeling is good or bad. All feelings should be welcomed for two reasons.
- Feelings cannot be ignored. If we try to push them away, they will always come back. It is easier to deal with feelings when they happen.
- Feelings, including uncomfortable ones, help us make decisions.
Why do feelings come back if you push them away?
Here is a little experiment that will show you what happens when you avoid thinking about something. You will need to do this in a quiet place.
Close your eyes for a minute. You can set an alarm, or ask someone to time you. During that minute you can think about anything except for one thing. You absolutely may not think about a pink elephant. Go!
Not so easy, is it? It’s almost impossible. Some of you may have thought of nothing else except pink elephants!
Now close your eyes for another minute, only this time you must think only of a green giraffe and nothing else. Go!
How did that feel? Did you manage to only think about a green giraffe? Did you start thinking about other things? Thinking about only one thing gets tiring after a while, doesn’t it?
When you try not to think about something, that thought seems to be all you can think about, which is exactly what you don’t want.
When you give yourself permission to have a thought, you may think about it for a while, but at some point it will feel like it’s enough, and you will focus on other thoughts.
Does the same thing happen with feelings?
Like the pink elephant, feelings don’t like to be ignored. The harder we try to ignore them, the more they worry us. When feelings are pushed away, they hang around waiting for you to notice them and welcome them.
Letting a feeling happen is a lot easier, takes less effort, and will worry us for a less amount of time than trying to avoid it. Pushing a feeling away is hard, takes a lot of effort, and will worry us until we allow the feeling to take its natural course. We are human and humans are made to experience all feelings, good and bad.
Trying to not feel some of them is a waste of time—it is like trying to stop the rain from falling.