Oct 29, 2017 Parenting

Here's How 7 Moms Are Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children

by Hadley Mendelsohn

Intelligence is one of those traits that’s always been celebrated and encouraged in children and adults alike. But what about another kind of intelligence? Today, emotional intelligence is gaining more and more buzz. And like igniting a passion for learning as well as hoping for children to excel academically, more and more parents and schools are prioritizing the value of instilling kindness, compassion, empathy, and healthy expression and communication of feelings.

So to hear how parents are approaching these lessons in different ways and how they foster and make sense of emotional intelligence, we reached out to seven parents. We asked them all the same questions, but their responses, approaches, and goals were varied and vast. If you’re looking for guidance in raising an emotionally intelligent child, scroll through our conversations below to hear how they’re each encouraging their kids to think beyond themselves and learn how to process their own emotions in a healthy way.

PHOTO:

Courtesy of Somewhere Slower

MYDOMAINE: What makes you proud of your children in terms of how they treat others? A specific moment or a general quality/trait?
COURTNEY AND MICHAEL ADAMO: From their earliest school days, we have consistently told our children the most important thing they can be is kind. Of course, there are many forms of kindness, but we’ve always meant in the way they interact with and treat others.

We’ve encouraged them to be the first to welcome and play with a new kid or to look after those who are being left out or even mistreated. Though they are as imperfect as any of us, we’ve been heartened by how much this message has affected the way they navigate this world. They genuinely care about others’ feelings, even strangers, and have taken action to be kind, fair, and inclusive.

MD: Have you and your partner had conversations about instilling emotional intelligence in your children?
CA and MA: We have not spoken of emotional intelligence per se, but we, of course, have often discussed each of the kids’ abilities to be aware of other people’s feelings, to read and respond positively to social situations, to be kind, and such. As the parents of five children, we have seen firsthand that it comes more easily to some than others.

Our youngest daughter, for example, seemed to spring from the womb with an uncanny ability to read people, to express her own emotions, and to comprehend complex social situations. We view emotional intelligence in our children, the same way we do many other positive attributes we wish for them, as a work-in-progress. Some may be more innately emotionally intelligent than others, but they will all get to the right place if we just take it one day at a time.

PHOTO:

Courtesy of Somewhere Slower

MD: Do you have any subtle habits or mantras that model compassionate behavior to your kids?
CA and MA: Nearly every day, as they leave for school, we remind them that the most important thing is to be kind. Sometimes we go further, talking about how we are not interested in them being the best athlete, the top student, or the coolest kid in their class. These things can be nice, but we are most interested in them being kind people.

MD: What’s your punishment/reward philosophy when they disappoint you or do something hurtful to others?
CA and MA: Our first goal is to try to get them to understand how their actions made the other person feel. We’ll often run through the same scenario but with the shoe on the other foot, i.e., how would they feel if they had been the victim of their bad behavior? Would they think it was fair for someone to act this way toward them? I think psychologists may call this perspective-taking, and a big goal in our parenting is to try to get our kids to see the world from other people’s perspectives. It’s a great life skill and one that we think will bring them and those around them greater happiness.

MD: How much emotional intelligence can a parent expect from a child?
CA and MA: As mentioned above, it’s a work in progress. With all matters of parenting, we think it’s helpful to not expect too much of our kids but to know that by the end of the long road they will have learned the important lessons.

PHOTO:

Courtesy of Somewhere Slower

PHOTO:

Courtesy of Style MBA

MD: What does emotional intelligence look like to you? Is this something that has always come naturally to you, or do you think it can be taught?
SARA AZANI: You know, that’s an interesting question, as I was at dinner with my husband recently, and we were talking about leadership and its efficacy around emotional intelligence or EQ. Without sounding too textbook, I measure EQ by how somebody interacts one on one and in large groups both in personal and professional relationships. I can’t judge if I have emotional intelligence. You would have to survey my friends or family. I can attest to being a great listener, reading and adapting to social situations well, and having empathy, which I think are important metrics for EQ. It’s not something I was taught. I feel it’s innate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach those values.

MD: Did you make any mistakes as a child that ultimately taught you how to be more compassionate and empathic?
SA: Having a sister was a great learning mechanism because you can test all types of social situations. Also, having foreign parents and a Persian background made me different and forced me to adapt and “put myself out there,” whether it was explaining the Persian food my parents packed for lunch or some of the cultural questions the other kids would have about me. My mom is known for her empathy and compassion for others, and so it’s a trait that she ultimately transferred to me.

MD: What makes you proud of your children in terms of how they treat others? A specific moment or a general quality/trait?
SA: Well they’re only 2 months, so they only treat others by demanding their bottles, demanding me to breastfeed, and demanding to have their diapers changed. But when I look at them, I want them to share the same values as my husband and me, namely honesty, respect, kindness, empathy, and humility.

MD: Have you and your partner had conversations about instilling emotional intelligence in your children
SA: My husband is a master of emotional intelligence. We can walk into a coffee shop and he will walk out with either business contacts, new best friends, or a free item. He even does it with celebrities who are usually guarded at first. He has an innate ability to make them comfortable and at ease. It’s a gift. So they have a great role model. We have the conversation about emotional intelligence frequently, as we were talking about aspiring for them to attend Ivy League schools, but I wanted to ensure that they not only seek IQ but EQ as well. We named our children River and Rumi over traditional names because we wanted people to ask them about their names so that they’re thrust out there from the start and learn to become comfortable in social situations.

MD: Do you have any subtle habits or mantras that model compassionate behavior to your kids?
SA: They’re still a little too young, but I do think it’s important to lead by example. They will observe and emulate how I treat others whether it’s in a social situation or if we’re at a restaurant, on an airplane, or how I interact with my husband at home.

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Courtesy of Style MBA

MD: What’s your punishment/reward philosophy when they disappoint you or do something hurtful to others?
SA: I have three nieces who are like my own daughters, and I’ve been able to test-drive what works and doesn’t. My philosophy will be to call out the behavior, explain the impact, and ask them how they will do it differently in the future. I’m hoping that they learn lessons and have values early on that prevent them from doing something hurtful to others. And taking away technology will be a part of that strategy.

MD: How much emotional intelligence can a parent expect from a child?
SA: It depends on the child and the efficacy of the parent’s teaching ability.

MD: How do you talk about feelings at home? Do you have any tools or tricks that help your child express themselves better?
SA: Well, people who know me well know that I don’t mince words. I can be direct and honest. I do think active listening is an important part of a healthy relationship, so I make sure I hear that other person. Meals are an important time in our household. My husband and I set the table and put away our phones when we dine so we can just focus on each other and have a conversation without distractions.

I’m hoping we can do the same with our kids where we share a meal as a family and have them engage with us in the hopes of learning how to effectively communicate. We’re both from big families, and we love to have large family dinners, so I think learning how to communicate with others during mealtime will be a great learning mechanism as well. Oh, and I will be holding on to their iPhones until they clear the table and thank the host.

PHOTO:

Courtesy of Style MBA

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Courtesy of Breegan Jane

MD: What does emotional intelligence look like to you, and why is it important? Is this something that has always come naturally to you, or do you think it can be taught?
BREEGAN JANE: I think we are all innately born with emotional intelligence as babies, but I think we only advocate for our own emotional needs as infants. As we grow and become adults, I believe we don’t always advocate for ourselves or champion others in the most empathetic ways. I do believe it can be cultivated and nourished within ourselves, though. As a parent, I try to groom emotional intelligence in my kids through my responses to them and vice versa. Instead of telling my boys how to behave, I work to guide them to particular actions or ways of coping with their feelings and seeing their responses from different perspectives.

If one of them experiences feelings of aggression, I help them recognize the range of responses they can have, and help them navigate to the best ways of dealing with those feelings. As their mother, I know I can work with them, however, I also often look to professionals to help guide me through those processes, and that helps me better advocate for them. I think parents need to educate themselves on best practices for instilling emotional intelligence. Kids aren’t the only ones who need help with it.

MD: Did you make any mistakes as a child that ultimately taught you how to be more compassionate and empathic?
BJ: I’m sure I made a lot of mistakes in this arena, but most of mine were from being too compassionate. I remember playing basketball as a young girl, and one of my best friends was on the other team. During one game, I ended up getting the ball, and I passed it to her. My coach was steaming. When my mother asked me why I did it, I explained, “Because her team was losing. I wanted them to get more points.” My takeaway from that situation was realizing my own views of empathy don’t always fit with expected norms, and that is okay.

But that story goes back to my belief about being able to learn emotional intelligence. My mother instilled that compassion in me as a 5-year-old child. I modeled around that age, and I kept my earnings in a little bank that was labeled “modeling money.” My mom would allow me to take that money to the 99 Cent store and buy all the toys I wanted. Then, she and I would park on the U.S. side of Tijuana and take a giant trash bag full of toys I bought to hand out to kids in Mexico. I didn’t feel like I was doing something charitable for someone in a lesser state or position; I was simply having an awesome one-on-one experience with another kid. This left a huge impression on me as I grew up.

MD: What makes you proud of your children in terms of how they treat others? A specific moment or a general quality/trait?
BJ: I remember some good friends of our family had kids enrolling in the school my boys were already attending. One day I went to pick up my oldest son, who has always been a good big brother to his younger sibling, from school. I found him sitting in the baby class, where our friends’ child was. I asked why he was in the younger class, and the teacher explained that the young girl was having a difficult time in class. Kingsley, my oldest, volunteered to help her and sit with her. It made my heart sing because he and I had discussed earlier that she was starting school and might be afraid.

We discussed giving hugs and letting her know it was okay if she needed it. We parents say so many things to kids, and it feels like things fall on deaf ears. But to see him advocate and support her in a moment when parents weren’t around was priceless for me. I want to raise enlightened young men who feel manly by being loving, caring human beings. Kingley’s actions were extremely selfless, and I am so proud of him for choosing to be that kind of friend and person at such a young age.

MD: Do you have any subtle habits or mantras that model compassionate behavior to your kids?
BJ: As a single mom, raising boys with their innate, testosterone-driven physicality has been a learning curve for me. They’re naturally drawn to fighting games and superheroes. So instead of bowing to the rough and tough play they’re drawn to, I created a fist bump game where they bump fists instead of fight. After they fist bump, one of them does a playful, overly dramatic fallout. When that happens, the other will immediately go over and make sure his brother is okay, and we all laugh about it. What I’ve tried to do with the game is to instill in them that being concerned about someone’s well-being is as important as the playful banter and roughness. They have just as much fun making sure each is okay as they do bumping fists.

I also work to use language around my kids as well as adult friends who encourage behavior I want them to exhibit. I’m acutely aware that they are watching me and my actions at all times, so I model what I want them to emulate. When we go to parties or playdates, I use specific language with my adult friends like, “how can I help you?” or, “it’s so nice to see you. Thank you for sharing with us!” It seems silly, but they do watch us, and I’ve seen and heard them incorporate my positive actions into their own.

PHOTO:

Courtesy of Breegan Jane

MD: What’s your punishment/reward philosophy when they disappoint you or do something hurtful to others?
BJ: When we as parents overreact to kids, I’ve found that kids will gravitate toward our responses because it gives them the attention they want. I don’t put energy on negative behaviors. It’s the quickest way to stop it. I’ve been incorporating this aspect of a program called 1-2-3 Magic for years. If they are sent to time-out after a 1-2-3 count for something they’ve done before, there’s no discussion because they know why they’re there. This is their time to self-reflect, and kids need that. If it’s a new behavior, I take time to explain why they were sent to time-out, and we discuss their feelings and better ways to handle them. I allow them to make one mistake, but that’s it. At the same time, I reward them for telling the truth and for positively using opportunities to talk about the behavior. This has helped me build trust with my boys. I want to be the first person they come to for learning and understanding difficult emotional circumstances.

MD: How much emotional intelligence can a parent expect from a child?
BJ: It may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe we can expect a great deal of emotional intelligence from our children. They are extremely capable of learning, applying, and giving emotional intelligence, both for their own development and their external relationships. This is coming from a single mother with kids who have had to deal with divorce, a new baby, a working mom, nannies, moving homes, and other lifestyle changes.

If we as parents walk alongside our children and help them process their journeys of growth and realization, I believe we can expect to raise insightful, others-centered global citizens. I have always set the bar high for my kids when it comes to processing their feelings and emotions, but they always rise to the occasion. It’s amazing. They want to process the world around them, and they want to make great decisions for themselves and others. I’ve found that if we parents help bring that out of them and trust that they will act on it, they absolutely will.

MD: How do you talk about feelings at home? Do you have any tools or tricks that help your child express themselves better?
BJ: When I want to talk to my boys about their feelings, I use a number of great books and child play to help engage them. For instance, I’ll take a book that focuses on a character feeling happy, sad, or mad, and I will ask them during the reading, “When are you most happy? Do you like to do what [the character] does when he’s happy?” I take my questions away from them and use the characters in the book to help gauge their answers and thoughts. It helps them to separate being asked questions directly, but it also helps them understand themselves emotionally. I also act out feelings with dolls or figurines, or I’ll move to various places in the room if I’m sad or happy so that they can mimic my responses when they feel those emotions during the day.

Instilling emotional intelligence is so important as a mom of two boys. I want them to embrace all their masculinity, but I also want them to understand, trust, and lean into the compassionate, beautiful spaces of caring within them. My definition of a strong man is being able to deal with all aspects of their emotions, and that’s what I hope my parenting is preparing them for.

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Courtesy of Christine Alcalay

MD: What does emotional intelligence look like to you? Is this something that has always come naturally to you, or do you think it can be taught? 
CHRISTINE ALCALAY: Emotional intelligence, in my opinion, is something that may be easier learned by some people than others, the same way some of us are better with our taste buds than our sense of smell. In my view, it’s our sixth sense. In my experience, I’ve become more emotionally intelligent because I am empathetic and sensitive along with having experiences that have helped me acquire emotional intelligence. It’s the ability to see from another perspective, empathize with it, and react with clarity. It doesn’t always come naturally, but I do feel some people can be taught deeper degrees of emotional intelligence more easily than others. 

MD: Did you make any mistakes as a child that ultimately taught you how to be more compassionate and empathic? 
CA: As a child, you are not as guarded as an adult and there is less filter. With experiences, we learn to be fearful, to be guarded, and how certain actions cause a reaction. It wasn’t so much the mistakes I made but more the mistakes other people made that taught me compassion and empathy. I was bullied as a kid.

Those feelings I had in reaction to how I was being mistreated taught me what it feels like when other people were mean and inconsiderate. I made mental notes of how I felt when things were said and done to me. My sensitivity was a blessing in disguise, as it made my childhood difficult, but I’ve grown to understand why people do and say what they do and say. From other people’s mistakes, I’ve learned to be sensitive to the reason they’ve chosen to act and separate it from myself so I can be compassionate.

MD: What makes you proud of your children in terms of how they treat others? A specific moment or a general quality/trait?
CA: My children understand the differences between all of us. In our family, we celebrate differences, because as a family, we have our differences. It is the difference in all of us that makes us beautiful. We are adamant about respecting ideas and views from everyone. We always tell our children to listen to all opinions and ideas when forming their own opinions. Our family mantra is “love and respect for all people and ideas.” We teach them they don’t need to agree with everyone, that they can form strong opinions, but that they have to respect everyone’s singular and special point of view.

MD: What’s your punishment/reward philosophy when they disappoint you or do something hurtful to others?
CA: My husband and I have a low tolerance for anyone who can be hurtful to others. Unknowingly, children can hurt others, but when that has happened in our family, we always talk about the two sides and perspectives. We always ask our children how they feel and then how the other person might be feeling. It makes them empathetic and also makes them think twice before speaking or acting. With understanding how someone can feel because of their words and actions, our children rarely make the exact mistake again. We talk about everything and are open with our own emotions.

MD: How do you talk about feelings at home? Do you have any tools or tricks that help your children express themselves better?
CA: Bedtime is always a good time to talk about the day and emotions. The only downside to bedtime is that all feelings become magnified when fatigue sets in. We use bedtime as a bookmark and revisit events and feelings later when the time is right. It is, however, a good indication of where our kids are, what has happened, and what needs to be talked about.

PHOTO:

Courtesy of Could I Have That

MD: What makes you proud of your children in terms of how they treat others? A specific moment or a general quality/trait?
SAMANTHA WENNERSTROM: This moment literally made me beam and tear up as a parent. During one of Elin’s ballet classes, another little girl slipped and fell, Elin (2.5 years old) went over to her right away and asked if she was okay and helped her get up.

MD: Have you and your partner had conversations about instilling emotional intelligence in your children?
SW: All the time. We have all of Janet Lansbury’s books, which touch on emotional intelligence and respectful parenting. She gives amazing advice and tips. I listen to her podcast too—highly recommend it.

MD: Do you have any subtle habits or mantras that model compassionate behavior to your kids?
SW: Think first before acting.

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Courtesy of Could I Have That

MD: How much emotional intelligence can a parent expect from a child? 
SW: What I’ve learned is that children are pure with their emotions and how they express themselves. If they’re frustrated, sad, or hurt, you will know. They’re good communicators in that sense. I try to remember that and always acknowledge my daughter when she’s showing me her emotions. Recognizing it and moving on allows her to have those emotions. It’s not always easy and simple.

MD: How do you talk about feelings at home? Do you have any tools or tricks that help your child express themselves better? 
SW: We never make our daughter feel like she can’t be upset, sad, or mad. Instead, we recognize her feelings, talk about it, and help her understand something that’s bothering her. Sometimes she’s just mad, and that’s okay.

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Courtesy of Crew & Lu

MD: What does emotional intelligence look like to you? Is this something that has always come naturally to you, or do you think it can be taught?
UYEN CARLSON: Emotional intelligence is being able to identify personal feelings. I believe being raised in a nurturing and open-communication environment has helped my emotions come naturally. I think it’s taught to our children as we care for them and raise them.

MD: Did you make any mistakes as a child that ultimately taught you how to be more compassionate and empathic?
UC: I think that we go through many stages of life that teach us who we are today. I think mistakes I have made in the past make me look at situations from all angles.

MD: What makes you proud of your children in terms of how they treat others? A specific moment or a general quality/trait?
UC: I sometimes have to take a step back and take in how strong, smart, and kind children can be. When I see my own kids demonstrate kindness, it just makes my heart explode with happiness. My daughter has this beautiful quality of observing and when anyone around her shows sadness—she has such a genuine concern. And then, she tries to make anyone feeling sad feel better with a hug.

MD: Have you and your partner had conversations about instilling emotional intelligence in your children?
UC: We have conversations daily on how our kids are doing. I think with every parent, we worry about every little thing, and having open communication with your partner is important to be able to be on the same page to help your children establish control over their emotions.

MD: Do you have any subtle habits or mantras that model compassionate behavior to your kids? 
UC: Having pets has helped me instill compassion easily. I teach the kids that the pets rely on us to care for them. If we are kind and loving to our pets, they will be loyal and loving back. And I compare that to people. Teaching them the classic quote: Treat others how you want to be treated. Respect goes a long way. 

MD: What’s your punishment/reward philosophy when they disappoint you or do something hurtful to others?
UC: If they do something hurtful to others, I confront my children instantly. To me, it’s important to recognize the problem right away before it lingers. First, hearing their side of the story and assessing the problem. They know the truth is always most important, even if it means they might get in trouble. If it continues to occur after a warning, I take away privileges like cartoon time or their favorite toy for an amount of time depending on their actions.   

MD: How much emotional intelligence can a parent expect from a child? 
UC: Children are extremely smart. I believe they thrive on emotions, whether it be positive or negative, they get a grasp on how your mood is as a parent from reading your own emotional intelligence. 

MD: How do you talk about feelings at home? Do you have any tools or tricks that help your child express themselves better? 
UC: We try to practice emotional intelligence every day.  When we pick up our kids from school, we ask them more specific questions rather than just “how was your day?” I gear questions toward how they feel.  For example, “Did anyone make you smile today?” “Did anyone make you sad?” “Did you feel happy when you got a star on your paper?”  Those are just a few examples, and it usually sparks our conversation to be more meaningful thoughts on what they are thinking and not just answering my questions. 

Do you have any insight or thoughts about raising a child with emotional intelligence? Share with us in the comments below.