By Kamala Glenn-Taylor, BS, BA, MS-MFTGottman & DeClaire (1997) addresses the need to raise emotionally intelligent children and defines emotional intelligence as the “ability to control impulses, delay gratification, motivate themselves, read other people’s social cues and cope with life’s ups and downs” . The essential element in this parenting skill is to first be emotionally intelligent adults. Eleanor Brownn once said, “you can’t serve from an empty vessel.” When you think about these ideas it brings to the fore the struggle that parents often feel, “I just don’t know how to reach him”, “she just won’t talk to me” . The similarity between those narratives is that it speaks to disconnection. And as parents, disconnection is the last thing you want. Disconnection means not knowing what’s going on in the life of your child, disconnection is wondering if your child is making the right decisions, disconnection is wondering how your child is able to emotionally adapt with the ever changing landscape of peers, puberty, religiosity, and relationships among other topics. Gottman & DeClaire’s definition of emotional intelligence attends to this disconnection. The authors state, “emotional intelligence…means being aware of your children’s feelings, and being able to empathize, soothe, and guide them” . Awareness is the key to connection.
So how can service professionals help bridge that gap? When parents present for sessions woefully concerned about how to “fix” this child who they are concerned about; academic issues, divorce, household conflicts, we have the opportunity to model connectedness. And we model connectedness not in a way that criticizes parents but in a way that introduces new thought about available alternatives in relating to their children.
Another opportunity for service professionals is to dispel the idea that the child is the one to be “fixed” or the one with the “problem.” Have you ever had a parent who admits that therapy is their last resort? Parents share that idea in different ways, “I just don’t know what to do anymore”, “maybe he’ll open up to you”, “I just want them to know this is a place where they can talk about stuff without me.” It sends the message that “I’ve done all I can” and that you, the service professional, are the white knight. While it may be flattering to know that someone regards you as a hero it also encourages more disconnection because once a child has learned to open up to you what reason does he/she have to open up to a parent?
The key to creating connection between children and parents is to create the space in which connection can occur. In that space of connection parents and children can learn about how to be emotionally aware of each other and how they each play a role in becoming the emotionally intelligent family they want to be.
Creating space for connection and thus emotional intelligence is especially important in military families where the need for connection is greatest. With the outside forces that determine the location of the whole family, the duration of time a family spends in that location and how much is spent with specific family members a break down in connection can be detrimental. Creating the space for connection will look differently from family to family. Our job is to come to know our families in way that honors their shared bond and helps them in creating a stronger one. The question, as always, is for you. How will you create that space?
Gottman, J. M., & DeClaire, J. (1997). Raising an emotionally intelligent child: The heart of parenting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
Brownn, E. (2009). Mile 9: The true story of a lifelong couch potato who one day made a decision that changed everything. Brownn Consulting.
Kamala Glenn-Taylor is a Master of Science degree recipient of the Marriage & Family Therapy Department at Valdosta State University. She is an independent contractor with Palm Tree Psychological Services and a guest blogger for the OneOp Family Development team. Love what you read? Be sure to visit Kamala’s personal blog site, here, for more.