Dubai: You have just sat down after coming home from work and your child comes up to you excitedly to tell you something that happened at school. You’re exhausted after a long day at work and just need some rest, so tell your child to go back to their room and play quietly. You’ll deal with her excitement later. But that “later” never comes… tomorrow will be no different.
If you do this once, it’s exhausting in a way, if not then it’s a measure of your emotional quotient as a parent.
Parents with low emotional intelligence (also known as emotional quotient or EQ) often don’t realize that they are neglecting their children’s emotions. Studies show it can lead to the child growing up to be a person who lacks empathy, has low self-esteem, and has anxiety issues.
Gulf News spoke to two UAE-based mental health experts to find out what emotional intelligence is, how parents can tell for themselves when they are emotionally unavailable, and exactly how 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 manage your emotions and deal with situations in a positive way. It is the ability to understand a given situation, to empathize with others, to communicate effectively and to meet the challenges with appropriate coping strategies to deal with the conflicts.”
How can parents know if their emotional intelligence is low?
Amin explained typical characteristics: “Parents with low emotional intelligence are often stuck in situations where they cannot understand or manage their own feelings and emotions. Or they react instead of understanding the child’s perspective.
“Emotionally unavailable parents are unable to maintain a healthy relationship with their child — they avoid them, don’t sit with them, and don’t have the patience to attend to their emotional needs. They show no interest in knowing how the child’s day was. They expect silence and want their child to be quiet as they have had a long, tiring day almost every day.”
What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?
Another mental health expert, Dr. Alka Kalra, a Dubai-based licensed psychologist, explained: “Just as children need food, shelter and clothing, they also need emotional support. However, many parents do not recognize this. These children will find it difficult to express their own feelings because they are not allowed to do so at home. Your parents are either too strict or too domineering. When the child cries, the 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.
Emotional neglect in childhood is a serious psychological problem. Often, parents who are perfectionists, want perfect results, scold their children when they ask for help, or are always competitive and comparative have low emotional intelligence.
– dr Alka Kalra, Director of Eduscan Group, Licensed Psychologist, Community Development Authority
“Childhood emotional neglect is a serious psychological problem. Often, parents who are perfectionists, want perfect results, scold their children when they ask for help, or are always competitive and comparative have 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 valued for ignoring their feelings.
“The whole dynamic of understanding the emotions of others and managing your emotions is missing from the child’s life.”
Meanwhile, Amin added: “The early years are important for a child’s physical and emotional development, so they need affection, support and attention. For example, if a child wants to talk about their routine and wants to tell you about their friends, but is asked to stop talking, the child’s confidence is shaken. The child feels ignored and gets the impression that expressing feelings is wrong.”
What happens when parents don’t respond enough to their child’s emotions?
dr Alka Kalra said: “We need to first understand who is ‘underreacting’… it’s a low EQ parent. Such parents are not very emotionally strong people themselves. They have destroyed self-esteem and don’t pay much attention to their own emotions. They have a strange kind of relationship with themselves or even with their partners. So, at home, the child sees this hostile environment full of stress and threat. The child does not see their home as a comfort zone. This is a situation in which parents react too little. If the parents lack it, the child will not learn it.
“Children who grow up with low-EQ parents often become very pessimistic, while children of high-EQ parents are more optimistic because they are more vocal about their emotions. I’ve also seen kids whose parents have low EQ become more reactive rather than being responsive in a given situation. They are also more judgmental.”
Parents’ emotional expressions are important to the child as they affect their socio-emotional development and personality. Parents are the first school for the child…
– Zobia Amin, Clinical Psychologist at RAK (Ras Al Khaimah) Hospital
And according to Zobia Amin: “The emotional expressions of the parents are important for the child because they influence his socio-emotional development and personality. Parents are the first school for the child they will learn through observation and modeling about emotions, dealing with emotions and social interaction. Parents are the first role models for the child.
“When parents are emotionally unavailable, we speak of a developmental trauma that can lead to long-term consequences. This can lead to an insecure personality as emotions are important in interpreting verbal and non-verbal communication. Moreover, this ability is only acquired through the role model and example of parents.”
She added eight effects it can have on the child:
– You will have difficulty understanding and managing your emotions
– You will always seek approval from others
– You will judge yourself severely and be afraid of rejection
– They are easily overwhelmed and will always be anxious
– Try to be a perfectionist and therefore have difficulties in relationships
– You will have low self-confidence and will not believe yourself
– Lack of communication and social skills
How does it affect later in adulthood?
Growing up with low emotional intelligence leads not only to a lack of understanding and handling of one’s own emotions, but also to the ability to empathize with others. Amin explained, “Because of this, they may grow up with unstable or failed relationships, weak boundaries with others, attention-seeking, or needy, leaving them without their own individual perspective, identity, or direction in life. They will also not be able to handle emotions, leading to rigidity as they cannot understand others’ point of view. They will have trouble accepting and adjusting to change, have trouble letting go, they will be more selfish and have borderline or narcissistic traits, they will be anxious and have low stress tolerance with no coping skills, so they are more likely to end up on substance Abuse.”
What is the solution?
Low emotional intelligence is not a problem that cannot be solved. The EQ can be increased through conscious practice and training.
If you identify as a low EQ parent, according to Dr. Turn to Kalra for solutions like meditation and mindfulness. “Even just 15 minutes of mindful meditation can help people manage their emotions and be sensitive to their own emotions,” she said.
You can also start with small steps, trying to consciously focus on your own and your child’s feelings. Give them time when they need you to listen and help them identify their emotions like joy, anger, fear and express them correctly.