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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Helping Children Become Emotionally Intelligent

Maurice Elias

Professor, Rutgers University Psychology Department and Edutopia Blogger

It's summer time, and July 24 is Parents' Day. So let's break from school-related comments and take a moment to think about how to reduce some family stress and increase family closeness.

Below is an excerpt from my new e-book, Emotionally Intelligent Parenting. It gives parents of children pre K-12 practical ideas for building children's "EQ" -- their social, emotional and character development using the same evidence-based practices found to work in schools. Enjoy!

Road Signs for Becoming a Caring, Sharing, Problem-Solving Family

Everyone complains that there is no instruction manual for becoming a parent, and no blueprint for helping families become closer. This is true. However, as parents travel down the Parenting Highway, there are going to be a number of signs along the way. Attending to these signs is one of the best things parents can do if they want to reach their destination, or at least avoid some dangerous situations. (Thanks to Eliot Malomet, a teacher, rabbi, parent, and New Jerseyan by way of Canada, for this idea!)

Here are some of the most important signs you will see in your journey to becoming a more caring, sharing, problem solving family, along with travel tips for what you might do (or not do) along the way.

STOP!

How do we show kids we care? Paradoxically, it is not by giving them everything they want, or by going out of our way all the time to do things for them. In truth, when parents do not provide limits to children, children think they don't care about them. While they will never come out and say this, children need adults to set some boundaries and guidelines. They need adults to be adults, which means to take responsibility for the well being of children and to make some decisions and choices based on adult wisdom, experiences, and values. Every parent needs to have some points that are not negotiable, especially as their kids enter the teenage years and face decisions with very serious consequences.

Toll Plaza, 1000 Feet

In every family, there are tasks and chores and things that must be done so that the household can continue. These include earning money, cleaning, putting things away, laundry, shopping, cooking, washing dishes, repairing, medical and dental check-ups, recycling and garbage disposal, planting, watering, taking care of pets, and paying bills. This is the "price" of family life. It is like a toll we pay to get from one side of a bridge to another, or to travel a distance on a turnpike. It is the price we have to pay to get from where we are now to where we want to be. But tolls also make a contribution. They allow the pathway to be maintained. They enable things to which we are really looking forward to take place.

Seeing these tasks in this way helps family members share in the "work" without thinking of it as a "chore." It makes a contribution to our family. We all make contributions of different kind. All of them are important; to be a family, we need them all. And if we have to do others' work, it leaves less time for our own and it makes it harder for the family to get where it wants to go. We pay a toll not as a penalty, but as part of getting where we want to go.

4-Way Stop

Every family needs down time as a family. This need is reflected in many forms of religious and spiritual belief. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are "sacred" days for different religions. These are occasions to depart from the routine and spend time as a family in common observance of shared beliefs. This notion also embodies emotional intelligence. Family members need to keep a sense of empathy and perspective for one another. We do not want too much time to go by without finding out what everyone else is doing, how they are feeling about what is going on in their lives, what stress, deadlines, projects, and positive goals are looming just ahead.

The 4-Way Stop sign is something that parents need to put up when they feel the family is moving in too many directions at once -- either away from or even toward each other. We need to stop at our corners, take time to communicate, reflect, plan, and then proceed with some better sense of order and knowledge of where others in the family are headed. This way, we are less likely to lose sight of our loved ones -- or crash. How do parents do this? Establish a time for a 4-Way Stop.

Next Wednesday night, we are all eating dinner together. No one is running out for any meetings. If you have a meeting, be prepared to be late. If you have homework, plan in advance for starting it later. Many families have a hard time doing this on a regular basis. Strive to find some regular times, and be sure to not let more than a couple of weeks go by without one. (Traveling parents -- you can at least call in during these times; speakerphones are common. If you are a cyberfamily, you can probably be in touch via Skype.)

Maurice's e-book is available at Amazon.

Maurice Elias

Professor, Rutgers University Psychology Department and Edutopia Blogger
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Comments (6)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Sarah P's picture
Sarah P
4th grade reading/writing teacher in Pinellas County, FL

I loved the analogy between road signs and signs to becoming a more caring, sharing, problem-solving family. Like you said, children need adults to be adults. They need us to provide boundaries and make decisions. I see the extreme examples of this not only in parents but also in teachers. We all know that one teacher who is more concerned with being the students' friend than the authoritive figure. The students walk all over them. But on the other end of the perspective, there's the disciplinarian who treats their students like soldiers and cuts off all emotions. It's so important to find that balance between those two extremes. Children need to know that you care and value them but also that you will set guidelines and enforce them.

Maurice J. Elias's picture

It's so true that parents can sometimes head toward extremes and this is not the best for kids. That's why it's so important that pre-k and elementary schools devote particular efforts toward parent education-- actually, toward child development education. Most of the reasons why parents go off the rails a bit when dealing with their kids is that they don't fully understand where their kids are developmentally. Our Road Signs help parents stop and reflect about how their parenting approaches are doing, in the hope that they will make changes when they see lack of success, vs. continuing doing that which is not working.

roxanne's picture

Parents need to realize that if they say Wednesday night we are eating at home then they should mean it. It needs to be a routine.

roxanne's picture

Parents need to realize that if they say Wednesday night we are eating at home then they should mean it. It needs to be a routine.

roxanne's picture

Parents need to realize that if they say Wednesday night we are eating at home then they should mean it. It needs to be a routine.

roxanne's picture

Parents need to realize that if they say Wednesday night we are eating at home then they should mean it. It needs to be a routine.

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