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Emotional Intelligence

Four Steps to Raise Your Defiant Child's EQ

Helping your child become more self-aware and successful

Research on defiant children shows that they tend to lack something called emotional intelligence (EQ). A lack of emotional intelligence is basically a lack of emotional maturity. Daniel Goleman popularized the concept of emotional intelligence, which involves our ability to understand, use, regulate, and manage our emotions as key determinants of our life success and happiness

Emotional intelligence appears to be a key predictor of children's ability to make suitable peer relationships, get along at home, develop a well-balanced outlook on life, and to reach their academic potential at school. The term encompasses the following five characteristics and abilities:

1. Self-awareness- knowing your emotions, recognizing feelings as they occur, and discriminating between them.

2. Mood management- handling feelings so they're relevant to the current situation and you react appropriately.

3. Self-motivation- "gathering up" your feelings and directing yourself toward a goal, despite self-doubt, inertia, and impulsiveness.

4. Empathy- recognizing feelings in others and tuning into their verbal and nonverbal cues.

5. Managing relationships- handling interpersonal interaction, conflict resolution, and negotiations.

Chances are your defiant child has lower than normal levels of emotional intelligence, which is a big reason why life is so difficult for him. In short, your child's lower EQ limits his or her ability to use two key coping skills: calming down and solving problems. Therefore, many of the things your child "chooses" not to do (e.g., be more self-aware, considerate of others, and control his impulses) may actually be things he can't do. The more you understand your child's emotional immaturity and limitations, the more you can begin to work around them rather than clash with them.

Here’s four ways to help your child learn to be more emotionally intelligent:

1. Start by listening to how your child feels. Don’t make light of or minimize his concerns with comments like, "You shouldn't feel bad about that." Denying the validity of your child's feelings influences him to not be able to identify and deal with his own emotions. This can lower his EQ.

2. Coach him to realize when he is stressed. The first step to reducing stress is recognizing what stress feels like. Share how your body feels when you are under stress and ask your child or teen what goes on for them. You could also share the quote by Sir William Osler: “Our bodies weep the tears our eyes refuse to shed.” You could ask questions such as, “How does your body feel when you’re stressed? Are your muscles or stomach tight or sore? Are your hands clenched? Is your breath shallow? Teach your child how being aware of your physical response to stress will help regulate tension when it occurs.

3. Help your child Identify her stress response. Everyone reacts differently to stress. If your child tends to become angry or agitated under stress, she will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet her down. If she tends to become depressed or withdrawn, she will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating. If she tends to freeze—speeding up in some ways while slowing down in others—she’ll need stress relief activities such as giving a pet affection and attention that provides both comfort and stimulation.

4. Encourage your child or teen to discover the stress-busting techniques that work for him. The best way to reduce stress quickly is by engaging one or more of your senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Each person responds differently to sensory input, so you need to find things that are soothing and/or energizing to you. For example, if your child is visual person he can relieve stress by surrounding himself with uplifting images. If he responds more to sound, you may find a wind chime, a favorite piece of music, or the sound of a water fountain helps to quickly reduce his stress levels.

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Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over 23 years of experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post-doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS Eyewitness News Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC, and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child (Perseus Books 2007), and Why Can't You Read My Mind? You can follow Dr. Jeff on Twitter.

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