It’s so clear when you’re sitting on the outside watching. There I was at the kitchen table in my friend’s house chatting with her while she fixed dinner. Her son Billy ran in and tried to grab some chocolate out of the bowl on the counter, knowing it’s against the rules. Catherine grabbed the candy out of his hand and reminded him of the rule. Billy turned around, picked up the garbage can and hurled it across the kitchen. I watched an empty can of tomato sauce hit Catherine on the side of the head, and proceed to dribble the remainder of its contents down the front of her white blouse, while I felt something land on my foot I hoped was coffee grinds.
What should Billy’s mother, Catherine, do at this point?
A. Stop and think before she takes any action.
B. Count to ten, breathing deeply, and soothe herself.
C. Calm herself down before she says or does anything.
D. Manage the anger coming from her reptilian (primitive) brain, and access her limbic (parental and caring) brain and neocortex (thinking brain) to deal with the situation.
E. Stop and understand the reason for Billy’s behavior
F. Respond, don’t react
G. Spank him right away and make him clean up the mess
H. Make him apologize
I. All of these
J. A-F only
Your answer: _____
Sitting here reading this, it’s kind of obvious that A-F are emotionally intelligent things to do, but when you’re in the situation yourself, that reptilian brain can “flood” you with emotions that cloud your reasoning.
The emotionally intelligent thing to do is be prepared for such occasions because when tempers flare, reason goes out the window. With another adult, you may something you later regret, but with a child it’s far worse – you’ll be modeling acceptable behavior.
Decide your disciplining methods beforehand – time out, for instance – so when the occasion arises, you can be more cool-headed. It’s good to over-learn things like this, so they’ll come to you in times of stress. You have your plan, you know the acceptable options, and you aren’t left to react in a state of what mounts to panic.
One of the saddest things to see, and I don’t see it as much as I used to, thank heavens, is when a child starts having a tantrum and the parent orders her to stop, She escalates, and then the parents says, “Okay, I’ll give you a reason to cry then,” and hits them.
This is a no-win situation all around, modeling exactly the kind of behavior you are trying to discourage.
Another equally defeating method of discipline is to make the child apologize. I work in the field of emotional intelligence, which is all about understanding, about emotional self-awareness. It is not developmentally possible that a 4 year old feels sorry for hitting his little sister. He may regret it when the action brings discipline from you, but that’s a long chain for a child to hang on to, and forced-altruism simply isn’t helpful.
I listen to clients all the time who tell me their parents told them, “No, you don’t hate your sister, you love her,” and “Tell your sister you’re sorry you hit her.” The first instance tells the child he isn’t feeling what he’s feeling. The second instance is forcing your child to lie, and this is not only wrong, but does great harm to your child’s dignity. I don’t recommend this method, but if you must, discipline the child first, then ask them if they’re sorry they did it. But basically this method doesn’t wash with me because it teaches the child not to be authentic.
The lesson to be taught is when you’re angry at your sibling, that’s fine, and justified, but hitting them never is. I will not allow a parent to make their child apologize to me for something. I do let the child see my feelings – that I am hurt and sad to have been hit and that I will not allow it in the future.
If your children are hitting one another excessively, look to how you and your partner treat one another. Mark Brandenburg, Fathering Coach, tells fathers in his eBook “25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers (http://hop.clickbank.net/?susandunn/orville85) , if your children are fighting all the time and not nice to one another, take a good, long look at how you treat your wife.
According to Jane Nelsen, the first thing to do is understand your child’s behavior. She says children misbehave for one or more of the following reasons:
· They want attention
· They want to be in control
· They want to get back at you for something you did
· They’re frustrated and they just want to give up and be left alone
I would also add that they will do this more when they are sick, tired, in pain, hungry, too hot or too cold, or experience some external stressor such as the start of the school year or a new baby.
This you understand and deal with at a different level. If you’ve ever been told by your partner you were “over-reacting,” you know how infuriating it is to be told you’re angry because you’re tired, rather than because you’ve got just cause. What you do is cut the person some slack at the time, and then educate at a time when they’re calm and rested. gry because you’re tired, is something beyond the maturity of a child.
At this point in our scenario, it’s easy to see Billy’s mad. That’s a big ‘doh’. We would be too.
At this point, Catherine needs to::
A. Ask Billy to use words to say how he’s feeling
B. Pick up the baby because she’s screaming and needs changing
C. Get the frying pan off the stove before the pork chops burn
D. Remove the onion peel from your skirt
E. Put the broccoli casserole in the oven or it will never get done in time
F. Deal with the fact that she feels inadequate as a parent, and embarrassed that Billy did this while I was there
G. Check and see if her cheek is bleeding, and try and remember if she’s had a tetanus shot in the past ten years
H. Catch the potatoes, they’re now boiling over
I. Get the clothes out of the dryer, the buzzer just went off
J. Answer the d*** phone
K. Hope her husband walks in the door any minute
No, it isn’t easy, but it can be learned. The more you learn about emotional intelligence and the more you develop your own, practice it and model it with your children, the higher your Family EQ will be.
Punishing your child without understanding the behavior is like putting merthiolate and bandages on your leg ulcers if you’re diabetic. If you only treat the symptom and not the cause, you’re going to end up losing the leg.
When the reason for the behavior is not obvious, you can always ask the child why he did it. With older children, this is very effective in preparing to pass the responsibility on to them. Developing your EQ means internalizing self-management; doing it because it’s the right thing to do, not because you fear punishment from an authority figure.
I remember asking a beloved young friend of mine why he had been put paper in the fish bowl in Spanish class in 5th grade, and hearing, “I knew I should’ve taken Drama instead. It’s because I’m not getting enough attention.”
If the child is too young to articulate it, or won’t say, ask the child. “Were you coloring on the television set because you’re bored?” Remember it is an affront to the child to tell them why the did it, to put words in their mouths. You may “know,” but still ask (and this works for adult miscreants as well). The small friend who comes to visit me has learned to say, “I’m bored. I can’t think of anything to do,” rather than to torment the cat.
And as to having rules that tell your child what’s expected and therefore how to behave if they want the goodies, since I work in the multicultural arena, I am reminded every day of how stressful it is to adults, even, when they can’t figure out what they’re supposed to do, or why they’re getting the reaction they’re getting when they haven’t a clue.
If rules are in place and abided by, you can all get on to the fun stuff!
For more tips, see “Develop Your Child’s EQ: A Practical How-to Guide.” ( http://www.webstrategies.cc/ebooklibrary.html ).
Submitted by: Susan Dunn, MA Clinical Psychology, The EQ Coach *
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