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Why Power Struggles Stop When You Teach Your Child About Emotions

When you take the time to help your child understand his emotions, label them, and learn respectful ways of expressing them, you enhance his emotional intelligence. He doesn't have to fight with you! He knows how to get along with you and everyone else in his world. The research by Peter Salovey, a Yale psychologist, shows that emotionally intelligent kids:

1. Understand their emotions
They are able to recognize a feeling as it happens. This is the keystone of emotional intelligence. It is this awareness that allows your child to understand himself. He isn't a victim of his emotions, blindsided by strong feelings such as frustration or jealousy. Instead, he can "catch" his emotions when they are easier to manage and use those emotions as a guide to help him understand what he needs. When his brother pesters him, instead of immediately getting furious and lashing out, which only gets him into trouble, he can recognize the entire spectrum of emotions in between – like irritation, annoyance, and frustration – as they happen. Recognizing emotions when they're "little" makes it much easier to manage them and choose a more effective and suitable response.

2. Stop themselves and manage intensity
Emotionally intelligent kids can stop themselves. They don't spend their days rolling from one outburst to another. Instead of hitting, biting, swearing, and throwing things, they are able to enforce standards for themselves. They can recognize their rising intensity and take steps to soothe and calm themselves by doing things like taking a break, breathing deeply, or going for a run. Temper tantrums become an unusual occurrence, rather than a daily event.

3. Identify their triggers
There is a genetic aspect to our personalities that affects whether we prefer to solve problems by talking or thinking about them. It also govern whether we like surprises or find them stressful; whether we find parties, movie theaters, or shopping centers fun or irritating; and whether we take no for an answer or keep coming back, despite the obstacles in our path.

Emotionally intelligent kids possess this self-awareness, and so are able to predict their triggers, avoid or minimize them, and learn effective coping skills. The child who can't leave a friend's house without getting upset learns to understand how difficult transitions are for her and how to make a plan to ease the distress. The child who screams at a friend, "Go home – I hate you," or who shoves and pushes other children, learns to say, "Let's watch a video for a while," or "I'd like to do this by myself right now," recognizing that he's an individual who needs space and quiet and may be exhausted by being in a group. The child who becomes emotionally distraught over seemingly "little" things learns to say, "I just need to feel sad for a while," instead of insisting that his life is ruined. And the silent resister learns to say, "I need to think about that for a while," or "I'm not ready to talk yet," rather than covering his ears, turning away, and refusing to talk.

4. Are able to cope with life's ups and downs
Kids never tell us they're stressed. Instead they revert to younger behaviors such as refusing to dress themselves, whining, or waking up in the night. Four-year-olds tend to have toileting accidents and fear things in their closets, while twelve-year-olds may become lethargic or oppositional. By learning to recognize stress cues, the emotionally intelligent child is able to identify his fears and anxieties and make adjustments for them. He doesn't have to act out because he knows what he can do to make things better. It is this sense of personal power that helps him to be more resilient as he faces life's challenges.

5. Recognize the emotions of others and work well with them
Emotionally intelligent kids know the important differences between statements like "You're not my boss!" and "Can we talk about this?" They are able to assert themselves without being aggressive. They know when and how to negotiate, allowing them to work with others rather than against them.

6. Motivate themselves
Emotionally intelligent kids get their homework done, practice the piano, and get themselves organized – even when you're not there! Because they understand their emotions, they know how to use their "peak" times to work, manage their frustration, get help when they need it, and prioritize their time and tasks.

7. Maintain healthy relationships
Daniel Goleman says, "Emotionally intelligent people are social stars." Emotionally smart kids have what it takes to get along with you and with others. As a result, they're successful in love relationships and in their careers. Most important, the bond with you remains strong – even during adolescence.


From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.

Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.

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