By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor
Woodland Hills Church
When I moved out of my parent’s home, I resolved to raise my kids differently than my parents. So, when my first child was born, I revisited my vow to improve upon the parenting skills I inherited. At first, this seemed easy, but one day I caught myself responding to my crying daughter in the same angry, hurtful words and tone that were used on me. This shocked my system enough to realize I needed more than just a willingness to change – I needed help.
One crucial aspect of the parenting legacy we can pass on to our children is emotional intelligence or the ability to rightly relate to others. It boils down to five skills: Identifying personal emotions, using emotions to promote thinking, understanding emotions and their meanings, managing personal emotions, and handling relationships well. None of us will get it right all of the time, but for those of us who didn’t inherit strong intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, we may really struggle to promote these skills in our home life. If my emotional intelligence were graded, I’d score a C- at best.
So, how do we equip our kids to be emotionally savvy if we aren’t? First, we can seek God’s help. God created us in His image, which is the perfection of emotional intelligence, something the Bible describes as righteousness. Jesus promised to provide us a helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide us, equip us, and even pray for us when we don’t know what to ask for or say. The fruit of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5, reminds us that as we grow closer to God, our heart and our actions will began to resemble His. We will find peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, love, joy, faithfulness, and self control, all traits of being emotionally intelligent, in our lives. Just by spending time connecting to God in prayer, worship, and studying His Word, we can learn these new skills.
Second, we can begin practicing one skill at a time. Start by naming your emotions when they bubble up and look for their source. Look for things that trigger negative emotional responses such as angry outbursts or frustrations and search for a way to prepare for those moments rather than just react to them. For example, if your child often causes you to leave late in the morning, come up with a plan and prepare for the next time it happens, seeking a solution ahead of time rather than letting emotions push you over the edge.
Third, surround yourself with a community of close friends. Being able to be open and transparent with others in a non-judging environment allows you to process through emotions, be accountable as you seek to change patterns of behavior, and find solutions to break old patterns.
As parents, the most influential approach to teaching our kids to be emotionally intelligent is to model how to relate well to others in a variety of settings, including at home. This requires intentionally working with our own emotional response patterns, being willing to apologize to our children when we make mistakes, and seeking help from God and friends. Being able to connect relationally with others will help your child in his or her relationship with God, as well. Providing a legacy of emotionally intelligent children is worth all the effort, hardships, and time that it takes to change our patterns and help them to develop healthy ones in their own lives.