Wholehearted Parenting

One of the lovely aspects of being a Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence Practitioner is that I get to meet amazing people who are leading extraordinary lives, amongst them, parents. The Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence network is a non- profit global network with a vision of one billion people having emotionally intelligent conversations by 2030, so the chance to share stories with a group of parents recently was an exciting opportunity to ramp up the discussion around emotions and parenting.

Parenting wholeheartedly is that subtle blend of leading our family with our head and our heart, blending our thinking and our feelings. Linking our rational, cognitive thinking brain with our emotional brain and those of our children, our own parents and our extended families. It begins with talking to ourselves as we would to someone we love, dialling up our self-awareness and catching the nitty gritty negative self -talk that sneaks in when we’re feeling tired, overwhelmed, uncertain, anxious and afraid. It involves using emotions to help us motivate and focus our kids. Most importantly, it’s about us responding calmly and intentionally, rather than reacting on autopilot.

Many people are surprised to hear that emotions are neuropeptides, strings of protein that are released in our body in response to some trigger. They have a specific job to do – and that is to give us information about ourselves and the world around us. When we’re able to get off autopilot, and mindfully tap into the message behind the emotion, we’re setting ourselves up for some great wholehearted parenting. Sometimes hard to do when we’re experiencing ‘octopus syndrome’ and being pulled in all directions every day.

Once we are triggered, these neuropeptides (primarily cortisol or oxytocin) cascade through our body within about six seconds and start to impact all the cells in our body, as we start to feel physical effects such as a racing heart or clammy palms! As humans and because we are the only species to have the language gene, FOXP2 gene, we’re able to put names to what is happening with a range of feeling words, a vocabulary around what we are experiencing. The more words we have for our feelings, the greater our emotional literacy – one of the core pillars of our Emotional Intelligence.

As a mum of four children myself, there have been many times in my life when I would have latched on to the Six Second’s philosophies. Their research into Emotional Intelligence, and how we can be smarter with our emotions and our feelings may have made a huge difference to my parenting; perhaps saving me from melt downs, extreme exhaustion and angry outbursts when I was feeling absolutely overwhelmed.

I’d love to introduce you to the incredible work of Dr Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston. She speaks of the importance of parents helping their kids to build up their list of ‘feeling’ words, providing them with a language of expression, and really helping them to stay calm through using words to keep their limbic brain less active.

Her list of the important words to have our kids become familiar with and understand are: excited, happy, surprised, curious, love, belonging, joy, gratitude, vulnerability, empathy, shame, guilt, humiliation, embarrassment, scared, fear, overwhelmed, hurt, disappointed, frustrated, jealous, worried, anxious, judgement, disgust, lonely, blame, grief and regret.

There are so many wonderful ways to help us grow our family’s ‘feeling’ vocabulary. Craft activities such as cutting out faces in magazines and putting words to them in a collage, creating a monthly calendar where we write down how we are each feeling every day, taking photos of ourselves at different times and playing a game around naming the expression on our faces.

In our Parenting workshops, I am often deeply touched by the vulnerability of parents as they openly share stories about raising their little humans through all of the ups and downs. The daily challenges of sleep deprivation, overwhelm, toddler tantrums and anxiety. Cravings for some alone time (going to the toilet a few stolen moments of peace), multitasking and juggling a million things at once. Peer pressure and a feeling that everyone else is doing OK, so what’s wrong with me and my child? A shared connection and common humanity – riding the waves of family life and parenting.

I remember a day when a dear friend visited my home at 6 pm many years ago. Let me set the scene – four children, a crying baby, unfinished homework, laundry everywhere and no dinner cooked. Me in tears! She called me later that night, kindly asking “is it always like that at your house?” Yes I sobbed, but how much better it felt to just share how awful I was feeling. Thank you to my lovely friend for caring, for checking in – so empathetic and kind (still a great friend today!). Our little humans can place demands on us that at times feel super human, and being able to put words to the flood of feelings really helps.

Many years later as I have grown in my own learning as a Neuroleadership and Emotional Intelligence coach, I am now in touch with a range of skills and tips that could really have helped me back in the day and I hope to share some of them with you here in this blog:

  • Bring Mindfulness to your days – even a few minutes of deep breathing can help. There are many free apps available, my favourite being Smiling Mind
  • Build your family’s language around emotions and feelings – talk openly about what you’re feeling
  • Work on ways to better navigate your feelings
  • Set up a special home craft ’emotions corner’ if your humans are still little – use it as a space for them to go to when they need to find words to express how they are feeling
  • If your kids are teenagers, have a dinner table ritual of everyone sharing a bit about their day and how they’re feeling; at least five feeling words and to try and come up with some different words every night
  • Keep a journal of how you’re feeling, thinking and behaving – notice any emerging themes or patterns and decide whether you want to change anything
  • Remember the value of a power nap – a few golden moments to replenish your pre-frontal cortex to keep you going for the rest of the day
  • Practice being optimistic – there is always hope and possibility when we look for the good in things and realise this situation won’t last forever
  • Share your story with a trusted friend – lean into being vulnerable, honest and open
  • Emotions are there to give us messages – the stronger the emotion, the more important the message. So stay tuned into your own body, and think about what the message is that you’re being given and what choices you may have in responding
  • Try and find a small space of time each day for you – and fill it with something you love to do as you fill up your energy tank
  • Keep exercising – even 20 minutes each day will reap huge rewards in keeping your mindset positive and up for the challenges of parenting

This parenting journey is lifelong and truly miraculous. I remember my beloved mum worrying about my eldest sister when she was 50, yet I know that she wouldn’t have had it it any other way. We are parents for life!

Our children are our legacy, our reason for being, our everything.

May your parenting be wholehearted as your emotional intelligence shines through, and positively influences your child’s journey.

Cheers Alison