Parenting with our Hearts and our Heads

Imagine a typical weekday morning at home.  Everyone has to get to work or school.  Someone has lost a shoe and is yelling for you to find it.  You yell back.  The other two children spar for the TV remote, noisily defending the merits of their favorite morning cartoon.  Your voice gets louder as you attempt to be heard above the clatter.  You are also of course trying to clean the kitchen, grab lunch bags, sign permission slips, find backpacks, locate your briefcase, and shepherd the children out the door.

Sound familiar?  Your family steeped in conflicting wills and escalating emotions.  Stress.  And it all seems out of control.

Now try the Neighbor Test.  Say in the midst of it all, the next-door neighbor stops by, oblivious to the time, inviting you outside to show off her week-old kittens.  What happens?

Child number 1 miraculously finds her shoe and is out the door.  Children numbers 2 and 3 forget the remote and each other as they zoom out.  You breathe.  You stop yelling.  And you smile as you catch your first glimpse of the kittens.

Chaos forgotten, all attention is now focused on the softness of the newborns.  The air seems quiet and calm.  You notice.  Moments later, the children are in the van.  And the day begins anew.

Your children can do it.  You can, too.  Pandemonium can be transformed into peace if that is what we want.

Create an expanding oasis of peace.  This is the concept that most caught our attention as we prepared for our workshop on Emotional Intelligence.  It reminds us that it is possible to reclaim our day-to-day lives.  We can generate stillness within ourselves, and harmony in interacting with our children.  Even when a child is particularly demanding, generating chaos in the family as a whole, it is possible to step back, breathe, and redirect the the energy.

How?  Experts suggest these options:

Prioritize    What are your values–for your life and your family life?  Decide what is truly important, and use those values to guide you.

The 24-karat rule    Treat your child as you want others to treat your child.

Balance    Provide the right amount of activity and downtime for you and your child.

The neighbor test    When you are about to do something unpeaceful, like scream in frustration, imagine what you would do if just then your neighbor dropped by.  What would happen if that person stayed for five minutes?  for thirty minutes?

Look underneath the storyline    LIsten with deep empathy and compassion.  Hear not only what your child is saying, but also what she may be trying to communicate beneath her words and behaviors.

Raising emotionally intelligent children is parenting with our heads and our hearts.  It  means teaching our children to recognize, manage, and harness their feelings, and helping them practice empathy with others.

Parents need to practice what we teach as well.  Strive to keep your cool, demonstrate empathy and compassion, attempt to understand others’ points of view (especially your children’s), and show your children that we understand them–even when you do not agree.

When a child acts up, often parents’ immediate response is to annoyance and resistance.  While understandable, giving in to the irritation often runs counter to establishing a peaceful home.  Emotionally intelligent parenting teaches us first to acknowledge any irritation within ourselves, albeit silently.  Allow yourself to pause before responding.  Take a deep breath.  Tune in.  Looks closely at what your child is telling you–not only in words, but also in actions.  What is beneath the storyline?  Why might he be acting up?  Without sacrificing needed boundaries, try to respond to the underlying need.

A real-life demonstration of these principles occurred when Tom’s son was young.  Wanting to provide a good father-son bonding experience, he took Elliot camping for the first time.  They talked about it for weeks.  The big day came.  They set up the tent together.  As bedtime approached, Elliot’s behavior deteriorated.  He refused to brush his teeth or wash his sticky hands.  He ran away and hid in the dark.

Tom was annoyed and frustrated, but took a moment to stop and attempt to understand.  He finally realized that Elliot might be afraid.  Bingo!  When Tom was able to verbalize what the four-year-old could not–”sometimes It’s scary to sleep in a new place”–the misbehavior vanished.  Elliot felt understood, and father and son were able to connect.  Camping could wait.  They slept indoors that night.

Parenting is demanding.  And some of life’s challenges are beyond our control.  But even in the midst of the busiest mornings–and even without visiting kittens–incorporating the principles of Emotional Intelligence, we can center and ground ourselves.  And we can teach our children to do the same.

Written by Tom Glaser and Jil Leverone, PhD, LP.

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