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July 8, 2024

July 3, 2024

Fostering Emotional Development in Our Children: How Emotional Intelligence Can Change the Way We Parent

E:
232
with
Alyssa Campbell
CEO of Seed and Sew, co-author of Tiny Humans, Big Emotions

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

  • What are Emotions? (and the 5 Components of Emotional Intelligence)
  • The Good Mom Myth and How It Plays Into Emotional Development
  • How Our Own Emotional Development and Upbringing Play a Role
  • How Collaborative Emotion Processing Can Foster Emotional Development
  • How to Start Learning and Modeling Emotional Development and Intelligence

We all want our children to be resilient, empathetic, and capable of emotional regulation. But most of us were never equipped with the skills we need to foster emotional development, let alone how to model and teach it. 

So how do we set our children up for success? How do we approach behavior struggles? How do we support them and help them as they navigate their own emotions—especially when we find ourselves triggered by their big feelings? 

It’s a complex process. We need to learn both how to help ourselves navigate our own emotions and how to offer strong co-regulation for our kids. And both of those pieces require a lot of emotional intelligence—an ability to recognize and manage emotions in ourselves and others. 

Fostering emotional development goes beyond validating feelings or sticking to a set script—it takes inner work, nervous system regulation, and plenty of self-awareness and self-compassion. 

This week on The Momwell Podcast, I’m joined by Alyssa Campbell, CEO of Seed and Sew and co-author of Tiny Humans, Big Emotions. We discuss the importance of emotional intelligence, the role our own upbringing plays, and how we can foster positive emotional development for our children.

What Are Emotions? (and the 5 Components of Emotional Intelligence)

Emotions can often seem mysterious and overwhelming, especially if we grew up in environments where we weren’t able to express our range of feelings. But at their core, emotions aren’t mysterious—they’re scientific. 

Alyssa said that emotions are responses to stimuli, involving a combination of our body's physical reactions and our past experiences.

For example, if we see someone with tears in their eyes, we are witnessing the stimulus. Our body and our nervous system then react—a process called interoception. We might experience a faster heartbeat or sweaty palms. But the way we interpret our physical reactions is based on our own lens of our past experiences. If crying meant danger previously in our lives, we might feel fear or urgency. 

The way we interpret our physical reactions is based on our own lens of our past experiences.

Emotional intelligence is the process of recognizing, perceiving, and managing our own emotions as well as understanding the emotions of others. Alyssa said that emotional intelligence has 5 components: 

  • Self-awareness: Recognizing and understanding our own emotions and what’s happening in our bodies
  • Self-regulation: Managing and responding to our emotions
  • Empathy: Being able to connect to the feelings of others
  • Social skills: Navigating social interactions effectively
  • Understanding motivation: With the goal being not to be solely reliant on external motivators

Self-awareness is an often-overlooked part of this process, but it’s one of the most important. As parents, we might be worried about our children’s emotional development or concerned about their behavior. 

But we sometimes miss the first step, which is taking a closer look at ourselves. This becomes foundational for all of the other pieces, and for fostering emotional development for our children. If we want to model, co-regulate, and help our children along their path, we need to build an understanding of our own responses, reactions, and emotions. 

The Perfect Mother Myth and How It Plays Into Emotional Development

Becoming self-aware and recognizing our own emotions and needs isn’t easy—especially in a world that tells moms they should put themselves last. The societal expectation of the "perfect mother" is endlessly patient, nurturing, and self-sacrificing. Martyring ourselves has become glorified for modern moms. 

But this martyrdom doesn’t benefit us or our children. When we push aside our own needs and emotions in an effort to stay continuously patient and calm, it can lead to burnout or emotional outbursts. For example, we might feel so touched out after not giving our bodies a break for the entire day that we end up losing our cool over one tiny interaction. 

Martyring ourselves has become glorified for modern moms. 

Alyssa said that we can learn to take a proactive approach instead, recognizing early signs of being touched out or needing breaks, and set boundaries that help us meet our own needs. This might look like telling our child that they can’t sit on our lap but that we are happy to have them sit beside us while we read a book, or that we are going to play for five minutes but then take a break for ourselves.

Modeling this self-recognition also helps our children learn that it’s okay to meet their own needs, set boundaries, and advocate for themselves. 

It’s also equally as important to practice self-compassion. Alyssa pointed out that there seems to be a belief that we will reach a level of such awareness and understanding that we will always recognize our emotions and respond correctly. 

But that isn’t realistic. We’re all going to have moments where we make mistakes—we’re only human. The goal isn’t perfection—it’s simply to have greater awareness and emotional intelligence that guide us most of the time. 

How Our Own Emotional Development and Upbringing Play a Role

Another key component of emotional development is recognizing our own upbringing. Many of us learned growing up that certain emotions were “safe” and others should be suppressed. If we didn’t feel safe to show sadness or anger, we likely over time tried to stop ourselves from expressing these emotions as a way to protect ourselves. 

We often don’t realize that these ideas and emotional associations become ingrained and influence our responses subconsciously. When we witness big feelings from our children, those subconscious associations might surface and affect how we respond. 

For example, if we were taught that showing sadness is a sign of weakness, we might struggle to validate and address our child’s feelings of sadness. 

We can create an environment for ourselves and our children where all feelings are welcome.

It can take a lot of self-work, self-awareness, and healing to break these cycles and change the way we show up. But we can create an environment for ourselves and our children where all feelings are welcome (even if all behavior is not). This might mean validating our children’s feelings during a meltdown, but later teaching better ways to express anger or sadness. 

Alyssa also pointed out that healing doesn’t mean we won’t ever experience discomfort around our emotions—it just means that we are able to sit with them, move through them, and accept them. 

The act of acceptance around all feelings can help both us and our children along our emotional development path, breaking cycles and creating a future for our children where they feel safe to express what they feel. 

How Collaborative Emotion Processing Can Foster Emotional Development

Alyssa encourages parents to take an emotional-intelligence-based approach called Collaborative Emotion Processing. The goal of collaborative emotion processing is for parents to build their own emotional intelligence and then respond to their emotions and their children’s emotions in a way that builds that same intelligence for the children. 

Through modeling, this teaches children those five core components of emotional intelligence. 

Collaborative Emotion Processing involves five components:

  • Adult-child interactions
  • Self-awareness
  • Bias (our own background and how it affects the way we process emotions)
  • Scientific knowledge (an understanding of nervous systems on a scientific level)
  • Self-care

Through this process, we get to know what’s happening in our nervous systems when we experience emotions. Alyssa pointed out that nervous systems and sensory systems aren’t one-size-fits-all. We all have unique responses, reactions, and ways to manage our emotions. Tuning into our individual needs is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to emotional development. 

Parents can model emotional regulation by naming and validating their own emotions, using calming techniques, and setting boundaries. For example, a parent might say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, so I need a few minutes to calm down.” 

Alyssa also pointed out that self-care is individualized. She shared that proprioceptive input or touch is calming to her, meaning that she benefits from physical touch. If she is having a bad day, she would find it calming to wear her baby or get a massage. But other people might find this sensory contact draining instead of calming. 

This also plays a relevant role for our children. Some kids might be comforted by deep hugs during a meltdown, helping them regulate their nervous system and move into a space where they are ready to talk about emotions or behavior. For others, this might escalate the meltdown—they might need a calm, quiet space instead. 

It might take some trial-and-error, but we can tune in to our own sensory needs along with the needs of our children and change how we support ourselves and each individual child accordingly. 

We can’t expect our children to discuss their feelings or be ready to talk in the heat of a meltdown moment. 

Alyssa pointed out that it’s essential to address regulation before diving into emotional processing. Our nervous system needs to be calm for us to access the logic parts of our brains. We can’t expect our children to discuss their feelings or be ready to talk in the heat of a meltdown moment. When they are experiencing dysregulation, we need to help them navigate that first. 

How to Start Learning and Modeling Emotional Development and Intelligence

Alyssa said that building self-awareness and curiosity is the first step when building our own emotional intelligence and fostering emotional development in our children. 

This involves both building an understanding of our own body and its responses to stressful situations or emotions, and starting to recognize the need behind our children’s behavior. 

Our children are always learning and operating from a place of need. On the surface, some of their behavior can seem frustrating or even manipulative—but when we choose to see the need rather than the behavior, we can change how we respond. 

Our children are always learning and operating from a place of need.

Alyssa shared that her toddler once poked her with a fork when she and her husband were having a discussion at the dinner table. But rather than jumping to correction or discipline, she asked herself what her child might be needing. In this case, he was feeling left out and wanted to be involved in the conversation. She taught him how to express this by asking, “What are you talking about?” 

Depending on the age of the child and the situation, this response might have been different. We might need to teach patience, waiting until it’s our turn to talk, or express feeling left out. But meeting our child at the place of their emotions and their needs rather than focusing on behavior helps foster emotional intelligence, create empathy, and build lifelong social skills. 

We can practice this same curiosity with ourselves as well, noticing how we respond in certain situations and where those emotions might be coming from. Then we can meet our own needs in the same way. 

Alyssa recommends beginning with her online sensory quiz which can help identify your child’s sensory needs (or your own) and reveal some different ways you can help meet those needs. 

Over time, we can build our own emotional intelligence and help our child develop their emotional understanding as well. 

Struggling with your emotions or how to respond to your child’s? Working with a mom therapist can help! Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult today.

This post includes links to outside resources we endorse–if you make a purchase we might receive a commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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Tags:

Emotions, Nervous system

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Alyssa Campbell
CEO of Seed and Sew, co-author of Tiny Humans, Big Emotions

Alyssa Blask Campbell has a master’s degree in early childhood education, is the CEO of Seed and Sew, and an established podcaster and influencer. She has also been featured as an emotional development expert in numerous national publications. She lives in Burlington, VT.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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