9 Things the Emotionally Attuned Parent Says to Their Child
As we all swim together through the murky Sea of Parenting, I offer you some clear answers: three goals to keep in your mind at all times, and exactly how to achieve them.
If you’ve made many parenting mistakes, rest assured: You Are Not Alone.
Let’s face it, parenting is hard. For most of us, doing it right means facing our own demons. Because no one is exposed to our flaws, blind spots, or unresolved issues as much as the children who depend on us.
Unfortunately, all of those unresolved problems transfer automatically from ourselves to our children, unless we make a conscious effort to stop them. This is made more or less difficult for us parents by our own childhoods.
The Subtle But Dramatic Impact of Childhood Emotional Neglect
If you grew up with parents who subtly discouraged or discounted your feelings (Childhood Emotional Neglect), for example, then you’ll have a natural inclination, outside of your awareness, to do the same with your children. This is why Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN, is so rampant in today’s world. It transfers, unchecked and unnoticed, from one generation to the next.
This natural transfer process is aided by one simple fact: In today’s world, we are all focused primarily on how our children behave. We don’t want them to get in trouble at school or irritate others, right?
Although it’s very reasonable to assume that teaching a child to behave takes care of the emotional part, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, it all happens in reverse. Our children’s behavior is driven by their emotions. So the best way to help our children to behave is to teach them how to manage their feelings.
The Keys to Emotional Intelligence
There’s another key reason to focus more on emotions with our children. In the last ten years, a large body of research has found that kids who are good at recognizing, tolerating, expressing, and managing emotions in themselves and others (high emotional intelligence) are more successful academically, make better leaders, and enjoy greater career success as adults.
I know what you’re thinking: “OK, so it’s important. How do you do it? Behavior is at least concrete and visible, but feelings are hidden, messy, and confusing. What’s a parent to do?”
So let’s get down to brass tacks. As we all swim together through the murky Sea of Parenting, I offer you some clear answers: three goals to keep in mind at all times, and exactly how to achieve them.
The Three Goals of the Emotionally Attuned Parent
- Your child feels a part of something. He knows he’s not alone. You’re always on his team.
- Your child knows that whatever she feels, it’s OK, and it matters to you. She will be held accountable for her behavior, but not for her emotions.
- Your child learns how to tolerate, manage, and express his feelings.
Any parent who accomplishes these skills well enough is raising an emotionally healthy child and an emotionally intelligent child. You don’t have to do it perfectly. You just have to do it well enough.
9 Things the Emotionally Attuned Parent Says to Their Child
|WHAT WE ALL TEND TO SAY||WHAT THE IDEAL PARENT SAYS|
|Stop Crying||Why are you crying?|
|Let me know when you’re done with your fit||That’s OK. Get it all out. Then we’ll talk.|
|Alright, enough! I’m done with this.||Let’s take a break so we can both calm down.|
|Fix the attitude!||You sound angry or upset. Are you?|
|You need to think before you act!||How’d this go wrong? Let’s think it through.|
|Go to your room until you can behave better.||I see you’re angry. Is it because…?|
|OK, OK, stop crying now so we can go in the store.||Look at me. Take a deep breath. Let’s count to five.|
|There’s nothing to be nervous about.||Everyone gets nervous. It’s OK. Let’s talk.|
|Don’t talk to me with that tone.||Try saying that again, but nicer so I can hear it.|
All children have very intense emotions, but they do not have the skills to manage them. When we are frustrated or overwhelmed by their expression of feeling, it becomes very difficult for us parents to manage what we’re feeling so that we can respond the right way to what they’re feeling.
No one sets out purposely to shame their child for having emotions. But the way we respond can easily, in very subtle ways, communicate to a child that he shouldn’t be feeling what he’s feeling.
Keep in mind that virtually all children have heard everything in the first column many times, and it’s OK. It will only cause damage (Childhood Emotional Neglect) if the child receives the subtle, unstated messages listed below too frequently:
* Your feelings are excessive.
* Your feeling is wrong.
* I don’t want to know what you’re feeling.
* Your feelings are an inconvenience for me.
* You need to deal with this alone.
* I don’t care what you feel; I only care about your behavior.
If you wince while you read those messages above, don’t despair! It’s not your fault. You’re simply doing what human beings do, and responding to your children as you were responded to as a child. Be assured, it is never too late to start responding differently.
Try using the “Ideal Parent” responses above as regularly as possible, keeping in mind that you will never be perfect because no one is. Watch and see if over time your child starts to respond to you differently. Watch to see how her behavior changes as she learns how to manage her own feelings.
To learn more about emotionally attuned parenting, how to raise your child with high Emotional Intelligence, and how to prevent CEN from being passed down, see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. To learn much more about how CEN happens and how to heal it, see the book, Running on Empty.
To find out if you grew up with CEN Take The Emotional Neglect Test. it’s free.
A version of this article was originally posted on psychcentral.com. It has been updated and republished here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.
Oh, the irony. I did the work after being raised by the WORST abusive man and distant mom (see below)
I was a great mom & can honestly say I didn’t invalidate their feelings. I knew what it was like so I started from when they were born. I told them I loved them whenever I dropped them off somewhere or they went to bed and hugged them often. My ex- began to engage in splitting behavior when my eldest was a pre-teen and was very abusive to me. I filed divorce, he hired a “Family Advocate” who threw me out of my kids’ lives because I’d worked on my childhood abuse. 10 years on I cry every day for how they’ve been hurt. (Will a course on my CEN do me any good then?)
Dad had charming refrains: “are you calling me a liar‽” (no, but you’re wrong), stonewalling (fine with me; I had 0 to say to him), outright laughing at me for asking him to not smoke in the car, near the kitchen … My mom: Stop being a H**** (bipolar neighbor) when I was upset, shrug when I’d confide in her, let my elder sister steal from me or destroy hand-me-downs (father spent all $$ on himself so we were functionally poor) “because they’re too nice for K”, bought food mostly based on what my eldest sister & dad liked. I don’t remember ever going out and buying clothes other than shoes.