Take a Closer Look
Many ordinary moments offer us opportunities to promote our children’s emotional intelligence. Part of that intelligence includes knowing the value in talking about not only our positive feelings but especially our negative ones. Those are harder to talk about and can create psychological trouble when buried inside. In Modeling Vulnerability, the father lets himself be vulnerable with his daughter and exposes the distress he’s feeling. Four aspects of the scene are particularly noteworthy:
Lean Into Vulnerability
Dad opens a window into his inner life when he comes right out and tells his daughter about the guilt and upset that he’s feeling. Like most children, she finds herself very engaged by her parent’s disclosure, by hearing about his tough moment. Importantly, he lets her know that he can handle his distress. When disclosing vulnerability, kids should know that we can manage whatever challenge we face so they don’t take on the burden of solving our problems or carrying its weight.
Name Your Emotions
As a by-product of his disclosure, dad’s use of specific words — guilt and upset — helps his daughter expand her emotion vocabulary, an important part of emotional intelligence (see Naming Emotions).
About forgetting his anniversary, dad says: “I’m trying not to beat myself up. I know I’m not a bad person” (see Self-Compassion). These words teach his daughter the importance of directing self-criticism towards what we’ve done — our actions (which triggers healthy guilt) rather than who we are as a person (which triggers toxic shame). It’s a critical distinction for our kids to understand, as shame is an emotional poison that drags us down, rarely helping us correct our missteps or learn from experience. Healthy guilt, on the other hand, reminds us of our moral compass, of the person we want to be.
Feeling Our Emotions
Another part of emotional intelligence includes the basic understanding that emotions come and go — if we feel them for a while, they pass. This is true of both positive and negative emotions, though we tend to forget this when we’re immersed in painful feelings. The wise father in Modeling Vulnerability shares with his daughter an important axiom: “I don’t want to pretend away my feelings. I’ll feel guilty and upset for a while and then I’ll move on, the feelings will pass.” It’s one of the most valuable lessons that our kids can learn.
This father’s emotional honesty provides a model for his daughter in how to embrace emotional vulnerability. It also creates a climate in their relationship that makes it easier for his daughter to approach him when she’s distressed. His receptiveness to her help promotes her confidence as someone with ideas of value. And their bond is strengthened by his willingness to take her into his confidence during his tough moment.
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Talking to Kids You Love is written and created by Aaron Cooper, Ph.D., in collaboration with Marina Eovaldi, Ph.D., and Benjamin Rosen, Ph.D. The project is made possible by a generous grant from The Golub Family Foundation.