Emotionally Intelligent Parenting

(A talk by Abu Yusra of Yusra Training and Therapy at The Living Islam Camp, 30 July 2011)

Bismillah, wal-hamdu lillah, was-salaamu ‘ala rasoolillah.

Dear Friends, 

I am pleased to be here to address you on this most important subject.  I am not here to teach you how to ‘parent’.  I am here to share some ideas that I have found to work well in my regular work with children and more importantly, as a parent myself. 

I would like us to discuss and discover, through reflection, how we can be better parents and have a better relationship with our children, or children we are responsible for.

The 24 carat rule in this context is a simple one: Do to your children as you would have others do to them.  It’s easy to forget that children are just that – children.  Because we see them regularly, we become short tempered with them, ‘kind of’ ignore them or just don’t communicate with them.  But we wouldn’t tolerate anyone else treating our children in that way, so why do we do it?  Do to your children as you would have others do to them.

As Muslims, we have the best example in the example of the Prophet Muhummed (saw).  One of the things we can look to is how he was a parent, and how the rightly guided Khulafa and righteous companions were good, emotionally intelligent parents.  

One of the key features of the blessed Prophet Muhummed’s (saw) behaviour was that he gained the trust of the children (and indeed adults) around him by building and maintaining rapport.  Whenever he (saw) would speak to anyone, he (saw) would give them his (saw) full attention by physically turning toward them and showing a genuine interest in them and what they were saying.  When he (saw) was speaking to a child, he (saw) would bend, squat or kneel to be at the same level as the child and thereby avoid talking down to them. Subhan-Allah!  How many of us would even think of the impact of that?  If he (saw) didn’t go to their level, he (saw) would often pick up the children to raise them to his level.

In the same manner, the advice from the Khailfah Ali (ra) about bringing up children is astounding in its simplicity and yet profound.  When asked about the best way to bring up children, he responded by saying “7, 7, 7.”  The questioner didn’t understand and sought clarification.  Ali (ra) replied and said that between the birth and 7 years of age, parents should simply play with their children to build rapport and trust, to become the child’s friend.  Between the ages of 7 and 14, Ali (ra) said that parents should teach their children.  He (ra) said that if the first stage of 0-7 had been properly developed, then the child would be willing to learn whatever they were taught in the second stage due to the trust, strength of relationship and belief in the parent’s intention from the child’s perspective.  Finally, in the third stage from 14 – 21 years of age, the parent should support the child.  If the first two stages had been properly developed, then now, when hormonal changes, the ‘big, wide world’ and other such distractions would appear, the child would feel comfortable and safer turning to their parents for advice than going to peers.  This advice is so simple and effective, that perhaps without knowing of its existence, Prof John Gray mentions a very similar model in is book ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’.

The world we live in today is one of instant gratification – I want it and want it now!  Patience in children as well as in adults is rapidly decreasing.  Just think about 20 years ago, when you sent a letter, you would be quite happy to wait about a week to hear back.  Now, when you issue an email, if a response is not received within half-an-hour or so, one begins to get impatient.  

This is a very important issue.  In the 1960’s, Prof Walter Mischel carried out an interesting experiment in Stanford University.  To a class of 4 – 5 year olds, he presented a tray of marshmallows.  He said that in a few minutes he would leave the room and the tray would remain in the room.  He said that any child who wanted a marshmallow could have one.  However, if they could wait until he returned to the class some five minutes later, they could have two marshmallows.  And finally, if any of the children could wait till the end of class, they could have three marshmallows.  Prof Mischel tracked these children for the next 30 years and found that those children who had displayed patience in the classroom were the ones who had been most successful in their lives.  Truly, good things come to those who wait.

The key to this is Emotional Intelligence.  If you can train yourself to be aware of all that is going on around you, to be in touch with your feelings and the feelings of others and can keep calm, then you have the three most important ingredients to be an Emotionally Intelligent Parent.  [If you want more on this, please contact Abu Yusra at ease@yusratraining.com for a free consultancy session to asses where you are and where you’d like to be.]

In terms of practical tips for you as parents, here are some methods that have really worked well for me and countless parents I’ve trained.  You will see that the common thread is that to turn everything into a positive, be clear and direct your children as to what you want them to do, as opposed what you don’t want them to do.

Issue Normal response Emotionally Intelligent Response
Turn Don’ts into Do’s
Talking with mouth full Don’t talk with your mouthful Do finish your mouthful first then you can say what you want
Running across the road Don’t run across the road Do walk across the road briskly
Eating biscuits Don’t eat too many biscuits Do have one biscuit now and perhaps you could have more later
     
Turn Stop to Go (Give an alternative time and place where it is OK to do/say what the child is doing)
Shouting Stop shouting Would you like to go to the park? It will be OK for you to shout there
Spitting Stop spitting We can spit in the bathroom sink when we’re washing or cleaning our mouth
Jumping on the bed Stop jumping on that bed Would you like to go and jump on the trampoline outside?
     
Give them an illusion of choice
Getting ready in the morning Just get out… Would you like to put your coat on first or your shoes?
Having food Just finish your plate… Would you like to have your potatoes first or your fish?
Getting dressed Just get dressed… Would you like to put your green t-shirt or your red one on today?
     
Turn a ‘No’ into a ‘Yes’  (Get a Yes, Emphasis what’s in it for them and Speed up the process
I don’t want to go to school today… Get in the car now… Would you like to play with your friends before school? [Yes.]  Good, then let’s get into the car so we can get there early
I don’t want to brush my teeth I’ll watch over you and see you do it… Would you like to have nice, fresh breath? [Yes.]  Good, then let’s brush our teeth and notice the difference
     
Give praise the EASY way  (What’s the Evidence?  What Action did they take? What does that Say about Your child?)
Clean your bedroom Well done!

I can see you’ve cleaned the bedroom (E)

You put away your toys (A)

That shows me you’re a good girl/boy (SY)

These are just a few of the things you can do to become Emotionally Intelligent Parents. For more tips, you may want to contact Abu Yusra at ease@yusratraining.com for a set of his Parenting Cards.

Finally, whatever you do, there are two things you must always do:

  • Ensure you set and maintain reasonable, clear and non-hypocritical boundaries, and 
  • Ensure you are consistent in dealing with your children.

If you can do these and implement some of the techniques mentioned above, you will be a good parent by choice, not chance. In-sha’Allah!

For any further advice or to find out about my Parent Coaching service, please contact me at ease@yusratraining.com.