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Parents who raise kids with high emotional intelligence never use these 3 phrases: Harvard neuroscience expert


To raise more emotionally intelligent kids, parents need to speak to them in emotionally intelligent ways.

As a Harvard-trained neuropsychologist, I teach people communication styles that promote connection and independence, both of which are vital if you want to have strong, healthy and empathetic relationships.

Here are three phrases that parents of emotionally intelligent kids never use — and what to say instead:

1. “Why can’t you be more motivated?”

2. “Why don’t you listen to me?”

I once worked with parents whose daughter had sensory difficulties. They were frustrated because at the doctor’s office, she refused to get out of the car.

But once they invited her into the conversation, they learned that she was actually bothered by the music played in the doctor’s office. This was easily corrected with a pair of earplugs.

Ultimately, the real issue was that the parents weren’t hearing the needs of their kid.

What to say instead: Children’s brains are wired for autonomy and a need to explore the world based on their own identity, not your beliefs about who they should be.

If you’re locked in a disagreement with a seemingly willful kid, instead of asking them why they don’t listen, consider asking, “Have I listened to you?”

Emotionally intelligent parents don’t strive for compliance from their children, but for connection. They need to know that you are willing to hear the truth of their experience.

3. “You are being so disrespectful!”

I frequently see parents jumping to broad — and catastrophic — conclusions about their child’s behavior based on their own insecurities.

One couple told me, “Our teenager doesn’t respect us,” because they didn’t listen when they were told to finish their science homework. But once the parents brought their concern up in a safe, low-stakes conversation, their teenager emphatically replied, “I do respect you! Science is just hard for me.”

What to say instead: The most emotionally intelligent approach to fears that your kid doesn’t respect you is to ask specific, non-judgmental questions, and then explicitly affirm your willingness to listen.

It could sound like this: “I noticed you got a 64% on your last science test. Would you be willing to talk about it? I just want to hear about your experience.”

Children’s feelings rub off on us. When they’re rattled, we get rattled. So when big emotions arise, it’s natural to want to control your child’s feelings by telling them to be quiet, settle down, or listen more closely. But as a parent, your job is not to control your children’s emotions — it’s to master your own.

Dr. Julia DiGangi, PhD, is a neuropsychologist and and author of “Energy Rising: The Neuroscience of Leading with Emotional Power.” She completed her residency at Harvard Medical School, Boston University School of Medicine, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She studied genetics, trauma and resilience at Columbia, the University of Chicago and Georgetown. Follow her on Instagram @drjuliadigangi.

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