Dubai: You just sat down after returning home from work and your child comes up to you, excitedly, to tell you something that happened at school. You are exhausted after a long workday and all you need is some silence, so you scold your child for disturbing you, and ask them to go back in their room and play quietly. You will deal with their excitement later. But, that ‘later’ never comes… tomorrow will be no different.
If you do this once in a way… it is exhaustion, if not, then it is a measure of your emotional quotient as a parent.
Parents with low emotional intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ) often don’t realise that they are neglecting their children’s emotions. Studies show that it can cause the child to grow up to be a person who lacks empathy, have low self-esteem, and have anxiety issues.
Gulf News spoke to two UAE-based mental health experts to find out what emotional intelligence is, how parents can self-identify whether they are emotionally unavailable, and how exactly it can affect their child.
What is emotional intelligence?
According to Zobia Amin, Clinical Psychologist at RAK (Ras Al Khaimah) Hospital: “Emotional intelligence is the way you handle your emotions and deal with situations in a positive way. It is the ability to understand a particular situation, empathise with other, communicate effectively and overcome the challenges using appropriate coping strategies to deal with the conflicts.”
How can a parent know if their emotional intelligence is low?
Explaining typical traits, Amin said: “Parents who have low emotional intelligence often find themselves stuck in situations where they are unable to understand or manage their own feelings and emotions. Or, they find themselves reacting instead of understanding the child’s perspective.
"Emotionally unavailable parents are unable to maintain healthy relations with the child – avoiding them, not sitting with them, and not having the patience to attend to their emotional needs. They show no interest towards knowing how the child’s day was. They expect silence and want their child to be quiet, as they had a long exhausting day almost every day.”
What is childhood emotional neglect?
Another mental health expert, Dr Alka Kalra, a Dubai-based licensed psychologist explained: “Just like children have the need for food, shelter, and clothing, they also need emotional support. However, many parents do not acknowledge this. These children will find it difficult to express their own emotions, because at home they are not allowed to do so. Their parents are either too strict or too dominating. When the child cries, their parents respond with statements such as ‘don’t be a baby’. These children want to validate their feelings, but there is no responsible adult at home who can help them do so.
Childhood emotional neglect is a serious psychological issue. Often parents who are perfectionists, want perfect scores, scold their children when they ask for help, or are always competitive and comparative, have a low emotional intelligence.
“Childhood emotional neglect is a serious psychological issue. Often parents who are perfectionists, want perfect scores, scold their children when they ask for help, or are always competitive and comparative, have a low emotional intelligence. These parents never ask the child how they feel. And their children feel helpless and don’t know how to deal with their emotions. In fact the child is appreciated for ignoring their emotions.
“The whole dynamics of understanding others emotions and managing your emotions, is missing from the child’s life.”
Meanwhile, Amin added: “Early years are important for a child’s development both physically and emotionally so they need affection, support and attention. For example if a child wants to talk about their routine and wants to tell you about his or her friends, but is asked to stop talking, the child’s confidence is shattered. The child feels ignored and gets the impression that expressing feelings is wrong.”
What happens when parents under-respond to their child's emotions?
Dr Alka Kalra said: “We have to first understand who is ‘under-responding’… it is a parent with low EQ. Such parents, themselves, are not very emotionally strong human beings. They have a crushed self-esteem and don’t pay much attention to their own emotions. They have a strange kind of relationship with themselves or even their partners. So at home, the child sees this hostile environment full of stress and threat. The child does not see home as a comfort zone. That is a situation where parents under respond. When parents lack in it, the child doesn’t learn it.
“Children who grow up with low EQ parents often become very pessimistic, whereas children of parents with high EQ are more optimistic, as they address their emotions better. I have also seen that children whose parents have low EQ become more reactive instead of being responsive in any given situation. They are also more judgmental.”
Parent’s emotional expressions are important for the child as it affects his socio-emotional development and personality. Parents are the first school for the child...
And, according to Zobia Amin: “Parent’s emotional expressions are important for the child as it affects his socio-emotional development and personality. Parents are the first school for the child they are going to learn about emotions, managing emotions and social interaction through observation and modelling. Parents are the first role models for the child.
“If parents are emotionally unavailable it is known as developmental trauma which can lead to long term effects. This can lead to insecure personality, as emotions are important to interpret verbal and nonverbal communication. Moreover, this skill is only gained through modelling and example of the parents.”
She added eight affects it can have on the child:
- They will have difficulty in understanding and managing their emotions
- They will always look towards other for approval
- They will harshly judge themselves and will have fear of rejections
- They can be overwhelmed easily and always will be anxious
- Try to be perfectionist and so have difficulty in relationships
- They will have low confidence won’t believe themselves
- Lack self-awareness
- Lack communication and social skills
How does it affect them later in adulthood?
Having been raised with low emotional intelligence doesn’t just lead to lack of understanding and managing one’s own emotions but also a lack of the ability to empathise with others. Amin explained: “Due to this, they can grow up to have unstable or failed relationships, poor boundaries with others, are attention seeking or needy, so they won’t have their own individual point of view, identity or direction in life. They will also be unable to manage emotions, leading to rigidity, as they won’t be able to understand others’ point of view. They will have difficulty in accepting and adapting to changes, difficulty in letting go, they will be more selfish having borderline or narcissistic traits, they will be anxious and have low stress tolerance with no coping strategies, so are more prone to end up in substance abuse.”
What is the solution?
Low emotional intelligence is not an issue that cannot be solved. EQ can increase with deliberate practice and training.
According to Dr Kalra, if you identify yourself to be a parent with low EQ, you can turn to solutions like meditation and mindfulness. “Even just 15 minutes of mindful meditation can help people deal with their emotions and be sensitive to their own emotions,” she said.
You can also start with small steps, wherein, you mindfully try to focus on your own feelings as well as your child’s. Give them time when they require you to listen and help them to identify their emotions such as joy, anger, fear, and help them express it correctly.