The headlines across the country on January 13 read, “Powerball Jackpot Reaches $1.5 Billion.” Such a staggering amount of money caused ‘Powerball Fever’, with people buying 50 tickets, or more. A man who won seven lottery grand prizes offered this advice, “Buy as many tickets as you can afford.” The line for tickets at King Soopers in Lafayette stretched to the parking lot on the day before the drawing, and people could be overheard talking about ways to spend the money. “I’d buy a big house in Florida,” said one woman. “I’d quit my job selling insurance, buy a motor home and travel,” said someone else. “I’d pay off all of my loans and pay for my kids to go to college,” said another. Imagine how happy you’d be if you won the lottery!
Now imagine this: who is happier, the person who won the Powerball or someone who had a debilitating accident and is paralyzed? Most of us would answer the newly minted millionaire, right? The reality is that neither is happier. Sonya Lyubomirsky, psychologist and author of The How of Happiness, has shown that we have a personal set point for happiness, and no matter the life circumstance, we return to our happy set point after several months. This set point is about 50% genetic, 10% circumstances and 40% behavior. In other words, some of our happiness is determined by our hardwiring and circumstances, but not all. A large part of our happy set point comes from being emotionally intelligent.
So, what exactly is emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence just means being smart with feelings. It’s about connecting the rational and emotional so you can get along with others and solve problems. Research into emotional intelligence shows that it is at least as important as grades and test scores in predicting satisfaction and success.
In my work as both a child and family therapist and psychology professor, I have learned some things about how to help children raise their emotional intelligence, and ultimately their success and happiness. Emotionally intelligent kids have parents who are their Emotion Coaches, according to John Gottman, PhD. This doesn’t mean that as parents we stand behind our kids, prompting them to say, do or feel a certain way. This doesn’t mean that there is a prescribed set of parenting steps that makes kids turn out happy. And this doesn’t mean that we, as parents, have to be perfect, either. Parenting is hard work. We will mess up, guaranteed. Research shows that if we are good Emotion Coaches 40% of the time, we’re doing really well, and our kids are likely to do well too.
Emotion Coaching is more like a philosophy than a recipe. According to Gottman, there are five key characteristics of an Emotion Coaching parent:
- Emotion Coaching parents know their child on a deep level because they pay attention to their child’s emotions, and the small emotions are just as important as the big ones.
- Emotion Coaching parents place the child’s emotions front and center because they recognize that these emotions are an opportunity for connection and learning.
- Emotion Coaching parents teach emotional vocabulary by helping their children label their emotions.
- Emotion Coaching parents communicate empathy, without giving advice.
- Emotion Coaching parents set limits and problem solve, while recognizing that 95% of problem solving is understanding and empathy.
Parenting is a job of the heart. Staying emotionally engaged with our children helps them to become emotionally intelligent adults who are happy and successful in all walks of life.
Holly Chandler, MA, LPC is a psychology professor at Front Range Community College and a psychotherapist in private practice working with children and families. http://www.hollychandlerlpc.com