We often hear about increasing emotional intelligence, but if you’re just learning, it can be hard to understand how the skills of emotional intelligence translate into real-life parenting. When we talk about traditional parents, we are generally (and compassionately) talking about folks who parent from a place of habit and reactivity. Generally, “traditional” parents copy the parenting they received. They are often unaware of the ways their personality, struggles, and frustrations translate into their relationships with their children. In contrast, parents who have educated themselves on emotional intelligence gently seek to work through unhealthy mental, behavioral, and relational patterns. They are leveraging their self-awareness to parent with intention and build emotional awareness in their children. This article will share three examples of how traditional and emotionally intelligent parents differ in their approach to parenting:
1. Emotionally Intelligent Parents are Process Oriented vs. Outcome Oriented
Traditional parenting strategies focus on making a child into something. Rules are created to keep a child "in line." Emotionally intelligent parents realize that they are helping a child grow into the most confident, robust version of themselves, which means teaching skills like communication, confidence, and problem-solving. There is more emphasis on the potential for learning in each parenting moment as opposed to the specific outcome of each moment.
Example: Jill comes home with a 62% on a test. Traditional parents talk about how “that grade is not acceptable in this house, and you better try harder next time.” However, emotionally intelligent parents accept the grade, help the child process feelings of disappointment, and then ask reflective questions about how the child thinks the test went, the child's options for this test, and what might help prepare for the next test.
2. Emotionally Intelligent Parents Approach Problem Behavior with Neutrality
Traditional parenting is often a reactive transmittal of patterns. Without the self-awareness that accompanies emotional intelligence, parents often use old, outdated patterns and relational skills to address modern problems. Emotionally intelligent parents know how to process their own emotions and address the child from a place of neutrality which helps children move into greater emotional regulation and self-awareness. When parents and children approach problems with self-awareness, the child feels seen and heard, and both parties can access creativity and foster confidence.
Example: Davey climbs onto the back of the couch for the 2nd time. Traditional parents who have had a long day at work and are tired may immediately react and respond with, "Davey, get off the couch. What do you think this is, a playground? Go to your room until you can listen." Whereas an emotionally intelligent parent might say, "Davey, it seems like you have a lot of energy today. Is there another way you could use your energy? What if we go outside and play catch?"
3. Emotionally Intelligent Parents use timing to their advantage.
When children are distressed, it can be tempting to drive a point home. Often during a meltdown, traditional parents will try to reason with kids to get them to behave differently. Only focusing on the behavior and not connecting with the child’s underlying need, traditional parents may punish kids during times of struggle. Emotionally intelligent parents know that it takes the brain 5-7 minutes to reset after a meltdown, so they calmly state the needs of children, "It looks like you need a minute to sit and relax," instead of lecturing. They revisit the topic at hand later when the child has the capacity to have a conversation. The result is that progress can be made because both parties are willing and able to communicate clearly.
Example: John has missed three days of school and is screaming at his mom because he has too much homework and doesn't know how to do it. Traditional parents might respond by sitting John down and walking him through the problem step by step while he continues to scream and yell. Emotionally intelligent parents would say something like, "John, it seems like you're feeling overwhelmed right now. Why don't you go outside and shoot some hoops to take a break and revisit this later this afternoon." The result is that the situation is diffused instead of escalated, and progress can happen when the timing is right.
The cumulative effect of these actions is significant for parents and children because when old habits and patterns aren’t getting in the way of connection, children feel understood and supported. Emotionally intelligent parents can remain present in even the most challenging situations, and the child's best interest can be emphasized. When parents cultivate emotional intelligence, the child has space to grow, and the relationship between the parent and child can flourish.