Mindful Parenting: Nurturing Emotional Intelligence in Children

By Jo Bealey

As an attachment-based psychotherapist, I sit with so many adults who come to therapy because they are unable to make sense of themselves or what they are feeling. They have difficulty forming relationships and are continually searching for peace from the daily inner turmoil they experience.

This turmoil and lack of self-awareness usually stem from the era of ‘because I said so‘ parenting. An era gone when emotions and feelings were not met with understanding, empathy, or value. These children had to become self-reliant in managing difficult emotions whilst being reprimanded for experiencing them.

Fortunately, we are now parenting at a time when we have so much education, research, and accessible evidence-based information that the concept of mindful parenting has emerged as a valuable tool for raising emotionally intelligent children.

Mindful parenting is not just about being physically present but being fully engaged emotionally and mentally with our children.

By embracing this approach, parents can profoundly impact their children’s emotional development, helping them navigate their feelings, build resilience, and establish healthy relationships.

The Essence of Mindful Parenting

Mindful parenting involves being attuned to both our own emotions and those of our children. It requires us to create a space of understanding and non-judgment, allowing our children to express themselves freely. When we practise mindful parenting, we provide a secure environment for our children to develop their emotional intelligence.

Fostering Emotional Intelligence:

1. Active Listening: Take the time to listen when your child speaks. Put away distractions and maintain eye contact. Show that you value their thoughts and feelings, and ask open questions to encourage them to open up and share their world with you. Helping them learn what they choose to share is always important and will be met with a willingness to hear what they have to say.

2. Identify Emotions: Teach your child to recognise and label their emotions. Use simple emotion words like happy, sad, frustrated, and excited. Act as a mirror to reflect back on what they are experiencing. “I hear you are feeling very angry right now” or “I see that you are feeling frustrated“. This helps children understand their feelings and learn to communicate them effectively. Psychiatrist and interpersonal neurobiologist, Dan Sigel, coined the term ‘name it, to tame it‘, the concept that when a child can name that particular emotion, this helps to calm the brain process and regulate that emotion for themselves.

3. Model Emotional Regulation: Children learn by observing. Demonstrate how to manage emotions in healthy ways. When you feel stressed or upset, verbalise your feelings and share the strategies you use to calm down. I know this isn’t an easy task when we’re feeling overwhelmed! When we do lose it (you’re human after all!), take the time to go back and talk through what you were experiencing.

4. Empathy Building: Encourage your child to step into others’ shoes. Ask questions like, “How do you think your friend felt when that happened?”. This nurtures empathy and enhances their ability to relate to others’ emotions and make sense of their own.

5. Develop Mentalisation: Mentalisation is a skill that allows us to understand and reflect upon our own thoughts and feelings, as well as those of others. Keeping others ‘minds in mind’ enables children to navigate social interactions, manage their emotions, and develop healthy relationships. This is a learned skill that parents can teach their children to equip them with the ability to understand perspectives, solve conflicts, and collaborate, enhancing their emotional intelligence. This is learnt by sharing our own thoughts and feelings with our children and asking questions such as “What do you think I might say about this?” Or “How do you think I will react about..“. It allows them to grasp the art of mentalisation, and learn to understand others.

6. Talk about their day: When we cultivate a habit of talking, sharing, and discussing the little moments of their day, it creates the foundations for them to feel comfortable in sharing the big moments. When we bring it back to what they thought and felt throughout the day, this can help your child to develop their emotional language and expression.  

7. Conflict Resolution: When conflicts arise, guide your child through resolving them. It can be tempting to send them to their rooms, but instead teach active listening, compromising, and apologising. The cycle of rupture and repair is the key to secure relationships and handling emotions in challenging situations.

8. Quality Time: Invest and enjoy time with your child, and let them know how meaningful this time is for you. This allows them to internalise that ‘they matter’ and develop their emotional intelligence from having a secure base in which to explore the world.  

The Lasting Impact

Mindful parenting isn’t just a short-term approach; it’s a long-term investment that lays the foundations for a lifetime of emotional wellbeing.

By fostering emotional intelligence through mindfulness, parents empower their children with the tools to navigate relationships and adapt to change. As adults, they will be able to make sense of themselves, and what they feel, and face life’s challenges with resilience and grace. By embracing mindful parenting, we embark on a journey of connection, understanding, and growth alongside our children, creating a brighter future for them and the world they’ll shape.

Jo is a therapist based in Perth and works online, through her course and therapy sessions she passionate about supporting the journey of new and expecting parents. Follow her at @ohheyparenthood or visit www.jobealey.com.

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