All I Want for Mother’s Day Is EQ

Emotional intelligence is a gift to moms and kids

Happy Mother’s Day, moms! Let me offer you a virtual latte and a seat at the coffee-shop table so we can yak for a minute. I’d like to make sure that among the macaroni necklaces, handmade cards, and breakfasts in bed, this Mother’s Day also gives you the chance to care for the emotional side of yourself—specifically, your emotional intelligence, or EQ. EQ is the ability to recognize and understand your feelings and those of others, and to manage your own emotions. This may be the most important—and the most life-changing—gift you can give yourself and your child.

There is extensive current research showing that children who develop EQ skills do better in school (because, among other things, they can remain more calm and focused compared to kids who have no control over their emotions). These kids also are more successful at developing healthy friendships, and they even do better later on in life. But social-emotional learning (SEL, as it’s known) shouldn’t wait until a child begins kindergarten or first grade—it begins at home, preferably as early as age two. So moms and dads need to have their own EQ skills in order to be effective teachers for their children.

So for Mother’s Day, I’ve come up with a little memory-booster to help you think about and foster your emotional intelligence. I call it, appropriately, the LOVE MOM guide—as in “Love, Mom” and “I love Mom!”

Look inside yourself. How well do you see and understand your own feelings, and how they’re driving your actions? Do you know what triggers anger, fear, or sadness in you, and do you have healthy ways to manage those emotions? (If not, read on—you and your child can learn together!)

Offer opportunities, and lots of them, to recognize different emotions. With your child, use a mirror or take video as you make “mad,” “happy,” “sad,” “loving,” or “scared” faces. Talk about what you see, and how you can recognize those feelings on others’ faces. Look at characters in picture books who are feeling different emotions. Ask, “What made them feel this way? What should they do about those feelings? How would you handle a feeling like that?” And you answer those questions, too!

Validate feelings—your child’s and your own. When a child comes to you bubbling over with feelings, positive or negative, the first thing you want to do is let them know you understand that they’re feeling (frustrated, sad, silly, scared…). We never want to minimize what they’re feeling, or tell them, “Don’t feel that way.” My mantra is: All feelings are okay. It’s what you do with them that matters. This applies to your feelings, too. Listen to what your gut is telling you, and take it seriously.

Express empathy. Empathy is one of the most important facets of emotional intelligence. Empathetic moms are curious about others and conscious of others’ emotions. Empathetic kids recognize not only their own feelings, but can see how others are feeling, as well. Empathy begins when you know when to stop talking and start listening and observing.

anage emotions. Learn, and teach, techniques for expressing strong emotions such as anger in a healthy way. Deep breathing, counting to 10, and running or doing jumping jacks are all good ways to expel excess energy and calm down enough to discuss what’s going on inside. Reaching out to trusted loved ones for support, advice, or even humor can help reduce sadness and fear. And sharing your time with others who need help is both a productive channel for positive feelings and a great way to feel better when you’re down.

Open a “Safe Zone” in your home where you, your spouse or partner if you have one, and your children can talk about anything. This can be a corner of the living room, the backyard, the fire escape, the kitchen table—anywhere where it’s understood that feelings of all kinds can be expressed without judgment. (Keep a few pictures, toys, or pillows handy to make the space inviting and comfortable.)

Make time. You can’t take time until you make time—so put a priority on family time that won’t be interrupted by phone calls, television, video games, or email. It’s essential that everyone in the family be looking inward, to each other, as much as they’re looking out at the big world of all-consuming activities. Your child needs that time, and so do you.

As parents and as children, we have many, many demands on our attention and our emotional real estate every single day. I hope that the tips in this little LOVE MOM guide will help you and your family find ways to turn the camera and the focus inward—toward each other and toward ourselves. This is the beginning of true emotional intelligence.