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February 20, 2013

How to raise a child with emotional intelligence (in only 10 minutes a day!)

By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor

Family mug phone

During our nightly bedtime talks, my 7-year-old daughter has been updating me on the machinations of which girl would, and wouldn’t, let so-and-so play with so-and-so. I listen in the dark as she reflects on the most important part of her day, recess, sometimes with an operatic, "How can I stop this agony?" and more often a wistful, "It doesn’t matter. I’ll just sit all alone."

After a few nights of this, I revved up into helicopter mode and emailed the parents of one of the girls to check in about what I was hearing. The father immediately wrote back that he’d been talking with his daughter, as he does every night, and as far as his daughter is concerned, she and my daughter are solid and there’s nothing to worry about. (Confession: My daughter got the fretting gene from me.)

A national mandate: 10 minutes a day

Look at that, I thought: both of us were hearing from our daughters during night-time talks. I’m talking about talking the talk that goes beyond “How was your day?” and “What did you do at school?” (Why oh why do we ask these questions when we already know we’ll hear “fine” and “nothing”?)

At GreatSchools, we preach the value of reading to your children every day (ideally 30 minutes) – even older kids - because it’s so integral in laying the foundation for a child’s academic success. But what if a “talk to your child at least 10 minutes a day” rule was instituted nationwide? How many more kids would find the time to connect with their parents about the things that just never get the time? How many more parents would get to know the children they love so much? Life, school, work – it’s all so rushed that if we don’t make it a daily practice, days fly by before we get a chance to connect with them. Forget about it long enough and the person you’re raising just might leave the house at 18 a stranger.

Car talk ...with 7-year-olds

Tuck-in talks aren’t the only time to catch your kid. With my son, I long ago learned to prick up my ears in the car, a safe space where he’d free associate as one would to a therapist: me playing the omniscient and non-judgmental driver-cum-listener who would hear the most astonishing questions, confessions, and revelations about school and life. Case in point, when he was about seven, just as we were pulling in front of our neighborhood farmers market: “Mom, why are we here?” 

“We always come here on Saturdays," I answered. "We're just getting a few fruits and vegetables. It won't take that long.”

“No, I mean why are we here, on the planet? What are we supposed to be doing here?” 

Keeping midnight hours

These days, I must be more strategic, accessing him during the most difficult time of “day” for me: late at night. As author Michael Riera writes in his excellent Staying Connected to Your Teens: How To Keep Them Talking To You And How To Hear What They're Really Saying, parents of teens might want to set their alarms to wake up when most humans are sleeping. That’s when your vampire child is most likely burning his brightest and if the moment is right, you’ll find him at his best self – open and accessible and a beautiful blend of the child you knew and the future adult he’s going to become. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll tell me what’s actually happening at high school and, if the stars align, briefly open up about his  life that most of the time is an impenetrable locked door.

So yes, of course we want to support our children’s academic success by reading to them for those 30 minutes. And don't forget the 10 minutes a night, per grade, homework rule. (Oy, don't get me started on that nonsense!) But IQ isn’t everything. A child with a well-fostered EQ (emotional intelligence) is far more likely to be a successful adult, one who has learned, often through the regular attentions of a caring adult, vital life skills like empathy and self-control. So let’s hear it for the 10-minute-a-day (only 10!) talking rule, which isn’t really a rule at all, but a pleasure and reminds us why we had them in the first place.

I'm curious how other parents do it: How much do you talk to your child, and where and when do they open up?



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Bryan Post, PhD, of Post Institute (www.postinstitute.com), says exactly the same thing. He works with traumatized, damaged, behaviorally challenged adopted kids and he knows his stuff. He has studied it from a physiological and chemical perspective, as well as behavioral. His formula for connecting is called 10-20-10. 10 min one-on-one in the morning, 20 min after school and 10 min at night. Since he has proven it works with the most difficult children, I'm confident my 10 min will be well spent. The only question is, which child goes first? :-P

Best if a parent is "on call." When the need is there is the time to connect for the most effect. A "talking time" won't hurt. It is a good plan, but if we put them off and don't make ourselves available when THEY open up, we miss the golden opportunity to do the most good.

When I was a teenager my mom would wake me a bit early and talk to me. A lot was gossip, a lot was silly banter and I was often late to school because of it. I'm so glad for those moments. I grew to know her as a woman and not just a mom.

When I was growing up my mom used to sit with us for every snack and meal, even if dad had already left for work and she had already eaten breakfast. She was busy with my parents business, but made the time to listen when we had something to share. When they were starting their company, instead of having a nanny watch us, she picked us up from school and we had our own room for homework and play. Not fun at the time, but being a mom now, I get it, time spent together brings closeness. As she continues to tell me, the kids grow up quickly and the relationship you build today will determine what your future relationship will be like when your kids are all grown up.

My 15 year old has a girlfriend. He went from having A's and B's to C's. All he wants to do is hang around with this girl. He doesn't hang around with his friends anymore and his grades have dropped. He's a real good boy but I'm afraid he's experiencing puppy love (igg). I don't really like any of this but what can I do? I've talked to him many times about his future and to wait to have a girlfriend but it's not getting me anywhere. I really could use some help and advise on this. Please send your wisdom my way! Thank you.

I really got your worries.but my advice is to let him know that if he didn't,make it in future that same girl will leave him for another person. Again make him know that ,for him to make himself and the girl proud,he should try to concentrate in his studies.

@Lalese: I empathize with you. This having a 15yo is not for sissies! But I'm no expert and wouldn't presume to give you advice, except for me these are times I seek out advice of friends who are great parents and have been through similar situations. Also the book on teens I mentioned in my blog has helped me so much(Michael Riera's "Staying Connected to Your Teens: How To Keep Them Talking To You And How To Hear What They're Really Saying") as well as "Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager." Best of luck!

@Karen: Thank you for sharing this about your mother, who sounds remarkable and inspires me to do more sitting down during meal/snack times since I'm always running around cleaning up, cooking, etc. Thank you!

@Mary Jo: Yes, I think it's more about making yourself available and seizing the moment to connect with one's child. I've learned I can't force it but have to be, as you perfectly put it "on call."

@Sheryl: I hadn't heard of Bryan Post's work! I'll look him up. Thank you. And which child goes first...yes, that's a toughie, one I don't always get right. Good luck!

@KnittingMami: Boy, I love hearing these stories from people who remember and value how their parents intentionally spent time with them. Thank you for sharing yours.

Parents: I need help. The nature of my work requires periods of 60 hr/week sprints. I notice that my 9 y/o son gets edgy and acts out during those periods even though my husband is a strong presence every day. What do moms with challenging careers do??? I love my job, which is fortunate, because the reality is that I must work to support our household. Please tell me how you do the 10-20-10 when you get home after their bedtime.

Dear SK,
Set aside some time in your busy day to call, face-time, or whatever with your kid. At nine years old they might think its cheesy and groan about it at first, but he will love to have a 'meeting' with you every day. It would be awesome to hear you telling a colleague you are in an important meeting and can't talk right now, when you are meeting with him!! You could talk for a few minutes after school and a few minutes before bed.

Oh, I so agree with scheduling a important meeting with you child. It boosts their self-worth, self-esteem and all that when we take time to sit with them at a meal and really let them talk. Often, it is in the car on our way somewhere. All those one-on-one times helps them sort through their feelings and they bring stuff out when they think they have your undivided attention. They need that and it teaches them how to deal with life. They can't just go to school and us go to work and be so "self-reliant" and self-sufficient as the schools stress all the time. No, kids need their parents, schools constantly strip the parents worth away from the equation with them saying how they need to be responsible for themselves or learn to handle such and such. Maybe there would be less bullying issues if kids had an adult vs. just another kid or a teacher referee to actually talk to daily. We as parents need to mentor them through life just as we are mentored through work and careers. Really, the kids need this! The daycares and schools aren't raising the next generation ....they are merely providing education and we need to raise the full person. Think about it.

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