Six Ways to Support Your Child’s Social Emotional Growth

Written by: Marjorie Hill

As parents, we are constantly second-guessing ourselves about the decisions we make surrounding our children.  Did I handle that tantrum right?  What activities should I sign my child up for?  Am I over-scheduling my child?  How do I best prepare my child for school?  Did I choose the right school?  Is my child growing up to be a good person?  When these things are always on our minds, it is hard to gauge our own self-worth and determine if we are doing a “good” job as a parent.  That is often why we are preoccupied with our child’s placement, school accolades, test scores, and other points of measure.  It is validation to us that our choices are adding up to something meaningful, something right. 

But what if all the important decisions we are making to ensure our children are successful and happy can’t really be measured by a number? 

Dr. Robin Stearns of the NYU Child Center, as well as a growing body of researchers, have found that while IQ and worth ethic are important to success, they are not the only keys to success.  Instead, they are finding that a person’s emotional intelligence (EQ) is just as important, if not more important, than a person’s cognitive IQ.  Emotional IQ refers to a person’s ability to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve challenging goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible choices, etc.  Just as we nurture and challenge a child’s cognitive IQ, we need to do the same for a child’s emotional IQ.  When we do, we give our children an enormous advantage in living a life that is productive, successful, and filled with happiness. 

If you have put time and energy to ensuring your child’s academic readiness, then I would invite you to consider the importance of putting the same amount of time and energy into nurturing your child’s emotional intelligence.  Here are six ways to support this social and emotional growth: 

1.  Name emotions.  Be specific and go beyond happy and sad.  Validate your child’s emotion and understand that where that emotion may be coming from.  “I understand that you are upset that we can’t stay at the park.  Being at the park is fun; however, we enjoyed an hour playing and now we need to go home and make dinner.”

2.  Create a family mission statement.  Know who you are and what your family stands for.  Let this set the priorities for family time.  For example, if faith is important to your family, then going to Church on Saturday or Sunday is priority, regardless of birthday parties, athletic games, or other scheduled events.  Determine your family’s core—you will be happier for it. 

3.  Encourage your child’s own ability to solve problems.  Teach your child they have control over how to solve problems.  For example, if you are stuck in traffic, you can choose to get upset or you can choose to stay positive.  You can’t control the traffic, but you can control your reaction to the traffic.  It is this ability to determine what is in our ‘circle of control’ that allows us to be strong and emotionally mature. 

Walk through the steps of problem solving with your child whenever you can. Use the S.T.E.P. acronym in helping to solve both minor and major problems:  1.  Say the problem.  2.  Think of solutions.  3.  Explore consequences.  4.  Pick the best solutions. 

4.  Be a good listener.  This means going beyond hearing the words people say.  53% of communication comes from a person’s body language and another 40% comes from tones and feelings reflected in a speaker’s voice.   When kids are upset, it is okay to say, “Your body language is speaking louder than your words right now.  When you are ready to talk about what happened, I am ready to listen.” 

5.  Teach your child that perfection is not possible, but excellence and accountability are.   When children are caught doing something unacceptable, a natural response might be, “My child wouldn’t do that.”  But our children aren’t perfect and often do things we wish they wouldn’t do.  Our response and what we teach them in these moments sends a clear message on what we value and what expectation we have for next time. 

When someone does something wrong, the ultimate goal we should have for them is to learn from the mistake.  This means they have to be accountable to the choice they made.  If they don’t learn this sense of accountability, they grow up and become co-workers who make excuses and blame others for their failures. 

What we want to teach our children is that perfection is not what we want to strive for.  Instead we strive for excellence—always pushing to be the best, but accepting the consequence when we are not. 

6.  Foster empathy.   Know the difference between sympathizing and empathizing.  Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone.  Empathy is understanding another person’s struggle.  No easy task.  How can we ask a five year old to understand what it means to live in a wheelchair and not walk?  The easiest way to increase a person’s empathy is by reading.  Yes, that’s right, reading.  Books open us up to worlds we can only imagine.  They allow us to follow characters that have struggles we might not have personal experience with.  It provides talking points.

Today’s changing world has a whole new set of criteria for what it means to be successful.  Certainly we want our children to be academically successful.  But intelligence is only one piece—and maybe not even the most critical piece.  We need to nurture our children so that they become adaptable, communicate well, problem solve, take initiative, work as a team so that they are truly prepared for what lies ahead.  The next time you think about studying flashcards or practicing an academic skill, challenge yourself to think how you will devote just as much time to developing your child’s social/emotional intelligence. 

Posted on April 14, 2014 at 3:36 PM