I distinctly recall the wintery morning in January 2004 when I looked at the two little pink lines confirming that we were well on our way to becoming parents. Motherhood, they say, is a magical experience and I would not contest that. As both my pregnancy and I grew, I realised that motherhood and parenthood though may sound synonymous are practically different. It is the constant balance between the heart(mother) and the mind(parent).
On hindsight, the first couple of years were a breeze in parenthood. All we could think was what she was eating and excreting. Life takes a turn when they begin to grow and speak. Being a first time mother(motherhood being instinctive, but most of the learnings in parenting is based on experience), the challenges were many. All mothers would agree that the older the child gets the easier the previous phase feels. For mothers of two and more, I can only think of honouring them with a medal!
Growing up, children become increasingly perceptive. Latest research states that the entire personality of an individual is shaped in the first 5 years of their life. This unbeaten theory then shows up many interesting facts about raising children. As my friend in her facebook update once wrote, “For the first few years of the child, we ask them to get up and go and after that we just want them to shut up and sit down!”
Parenting, no doubt, is a tough job and we need to think what kind of children we are raising. Are we looking at raising kids that seek high grades and only that would “qualify” for being a “good” child? Having worked in the area of Emotional Intelligence for over 4 years now, I have had the opportunity to train a large number of adults to be aware of their emotions and how can they manage the same. However, time and again, I always thought that we as individuals have been taught to solve the issue in hand rather than be proactive in a way that the issue never occurs. How about nurturing our children in a different manner, in a manner which they turn out to be responsible, proactive and emotionally intelligent adults.
When Daniel Goleman introduced the concept for the first time, it threw open a larger view of life and the life skills required to meet challenges that await our little ones. Nurturing and building emotional intelligence in children is a way to help them become more confident, self aware, cooperate and most importantly empathise.
So how does one achieve this? In the constant method of raising children, making them Emotionally Intelligent will require some “strategy”. Using the word “strategy” may not go down very well with many parents because as they say, “let children be”. So, what is it that needs to be done differently than we already are to help them become self aware and manage their emotions better. Not much, I say and make it a way of life. Here are some quick “to do” list that one may incorporate (some of which I am sure are already in use by parents):
- Ask – Don’t Tell – Parenthood comes with an aura for being responsible for another life. In our quest to create and nurture the child, we feel that the best way to teach is to tell what the child needs to learn. A slight shift in this can help the child responsible, so instead of telling what needs to be done, “ask” what needs to be done. Present the child with the scenario and ask for his / her opinion. I do agree that most of the times, it may not be the answer you seek but train yourself to “ask” and “seek” their opinion. This not just makes them feel worthy but increases their confidence to take onus and responsibility later in life. Let’s say, Instead of saying, “Go to sleep”, use” do you think you can be up early tomorrow for school if you don’t sleep now?’ I also agree that these conversations may look “made up” to us since we are not “used to” making such conversations. Let me tell you it works wonders. Keep in mind, “ask” and not “tell”. You decide how and what you want to ask at any given point in time.
- Use Questions – Use questions in your conversations as much as possible. It is important that we know their opinion and what they think. It will also give you a peek into your little one’s mind and how it works. Instead of saying, “Lets make that project.”, use “How do you think we can make that project?”
- Deal with them during their extreme emotions – When kids throw tantrums, it is their way of attracting attention. Also, they may be super happy at times and too excited as well. Learn to deal with them. While, they are in their extreme emotion, try to calm them down and not get hyper yourself. You will have to check yourself first. Different children respond differently. Sometimes sheer ignorance or a threat may work. Identify what works and then move on.
- Listen to them – Many times, we feel we talk to our children. Focus on listening instead. Listen to what they say and what they feel in different situations. If going through a rough or a good phase, ask them about how they “feel” about it. This helps them to connect with their emotional self much better and they learn how to deal with it. Key is to “listen” and not just “hear”.
- Spend time – Spending time with children has been a time tested method of connecting with them. However, it is not the hours that you are around your little one, but the “quality” of hours that you spend. Be involved and empathise. See what they say from their point of view. It takes a little effort but imagine how much closer you become to your child. You could also sometimes indulge in writing a brief character sketch of your child. It is a good exercise to know how much you “know” your child.
- Use creative reprimand – Reprimand, threat and punishment are an inevitable tool that parents have to correct wrong behaviour. However, the old age method of bribing or punishing may not work very well with the children of today. Using reprimand creatively will allow them to take onus. Lets say for a behaviour that you do not approve, use reprimands like flowering the plants everyday, helping in laying the table etc. Though there may be another opinion about using such methods, be creative in your own way and see what works best for you and the child. Let punishments be fun too!
- Respect the child – While a lot of times, we say ”respect elders”, it is important that you respect your child as well. Respect his time, his space and his thoughts. Respect his emotions even if it is a bad tantrum. Talk to him after he is out of it. Ask him what you should do when he throws a tantrum so that you can deal with him better. Constant conversations and soft influence always works wonders.
- We are not rats – In the competitive world, we want our kids to flourish and be successful. But, please do not treat them as rats of the rat race. Equipping them with competitive spirit is a must in today’s world but pressurising him / her for a race that may exist but has no end is an absolute no no. Services children are lucky to be exposed to many cultures and changes, which brings their adaptability higher than usual. Focus on their uniqueness and work on them.
- Manage your own emotions first – Finally, in order to manage children, we must manage ourselves first. We must know how to manage our emotions before dealing with theirs. For when we get into the emotional rut, we cannot see objectively. The constant advice is also to watch ourselves closely.
To conclude, I must state that I am no “guru” in training children in Emotional Intelligence. Most of this is coming from experience in working in this area. What works for one child may be an absolute “flop” with another. Find out the uniqueness in your child and reach out to him / her. Every child is different and therefore must be treated differently.
As Khalil Gibran so beautifully says,
“You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”