Can Parenting Practices Predict Children’s Emotional Intelligence?

Dr Michael E. Bernard

Founder, You Can Do It! Education

Emeritus Professor, California State University, Long Beach
Former Professor, Melbourne Graduate School for Education, Melbourne University
Doctorate of Educational Psychology

parents and children playing together
Past research has found that the time parents and children spend in joint activity is an important aspect of the parent-child relationship.

Until recently, researchers had not investigated this time spent together in relation to children’s emotional intelligence. As part of a more comprehensive study of children’s emotional intelligence and parenting styles and practices, parents (and their children aged 7-12) from four schools in northeast Spain received invitations (via questionnaires) to participate in this research study.

Findings showed increased opportunities for parents to model emotions and reinforce self-regulatory behaviour in their children when they spend extended periods together in joint activities.  Sample results show that time spent in collaborative play predicts improvement in conduct problems, consistent with previous research findings. There is also a connection to emotional intelligence between the time parents spend with their children and the kinds of activities they engage in.  Depending on the type of activity in which the parent and the child engage, these relations may be positive, neutral or negative.

Most efforts in emotional intelligence education have been directed towards training children’s emotional abilities. This study suggests that in addition to training, parent-child informal joint activity (play, for instance) may be a significant factor in developing children’s trait emotional intelligence.

  • The time parents spend with their children is important, but the kinds of activities they develop also matter.
  • Children whose parents spend more time with them in joint activities are likely to have fewer emotional and behavioural problems, misbehave less at home, and enjoy higher academic achievement at school.
  • When parent and child play together, they establish and maintain shared attention on objects or games. Shared playtime means the child has to modulate their excitement or distress and therefore regulate their emotions and respond to the demands of the joint-play situation.
  • The time children spent with their parents watching TV was related to a greater difficulty to cope with stress. TV exposes children to multiple instances of factual and fictional, physical and emotional violence and stress. It is likely that after confronting continuous virtual emotional stressors, children exhaust their resources to cope with further stress, even in real life.
  • Time spent doing practical things such as homework and reminding kids to clean up or do their chores would not necessarily relate to emotional intelligence. These types of interactions have the potential for warm, loving exchanges but can also have high levels of negative conflict.
  • Educational activities facilitate the exploration of personal interests and therefore allow children to learn about their feelings and emotions in various situations.
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