Teaching Emotional Intelligence in Children
| Written by Allison Rosa, MA, LAC
Emotional intelligence, often referred to as EQ, is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions while also empathizing with the emotions of others. It’s a valuable skill that not only enhances interpersonal relationships but also paves the way for a happier, more resilient, and emotionally balanced life. It goes beyond academic success, shaping their relationships, mental well-being, and future prospects.
When emotions surge, people often respond in ways they wouldn’t under calmer circumstances. For young children, this is an everyday reality. With guidance from parents, children can sharpen their ability to self-regulate and perceive the emotions of others.
By the age of four, most children adopt some simple defenses to shelter themselves from a hectic and overwhelming world. Think of it as a child hugging close to their favorite stuffed animal when they feel scared or grabbing their security blanket for comfort in unfamiliar or unsettling situations. Shaping the young minds of your children can have a substantial impact on their future ability to process emotions, cope with them, and perceive the emotions of others.
The art of self-regulation consists of self-awareness, resilience to achieve daily tasks despite our emotions, ability to self-regulate, social skill perception, and empathy.
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence:
Emotional intelligence is more than just a buzzword; it’s an essential life skill with far-reaching implications for a child’s development:
- Improved Relationships: Children with strong EQ are better equipped to form healthy, supportive relationships with their peers, teachers, and family members.
- Effective Communication: Emotional intelligence promotes effective communication. Children who understand their emotions can express themselves more clearly and resolve conflicts more harmoniously.
- Empathy: EQ nurtures empathy, which enables children to connect with the feelings of others, fostering kindness and compassion.
- Resilience: Emotional intelligence is closely linked to resilience. Children with high EQ can better navigate challenges and setbacks, bouncing back from adversity with greater ease.
Teaching Emotional Intelligence:
Label and Validate Emotions: Encourage children to express their emotions and label them accurately. Let them know it’s okay to feel sad, happy, or angry. Validation is the first step toward understanding and managing emotions. Oftentimes, if your child is feeling anxious, shame and doubt about the feeling further perpetuates the anxiety, anger, or frustration. It’s helpful to reflect their emotions back to them. If your child struggles with identifying emotions, mention to them, for example, “I can see you’re feeling frustrated because your sister is using your things.”
Empathy Building: Foster empathy by discussing how others might be feeling in various situations. Read books, watch movies, or discuss real-life scenarios that allow your child to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. An example can be, “Do you remember when you were also sad after losing your soccer game?” Empathy-building takes self-awareness and reflection. Remember, it’s okay if your child hasn’t mastered this skill yet as their brains are still developing! You can also help your child develop empathy by having your children join you in helping others, such as bringing grandma soup when she’s feeling sick. Assigning a role to your child when helping others can also help them build self-esteem!
Active Listening: Teach the art of active listening. Show your child how to pay attention to what someone is saying and express genuine interest in their emotions and experiences. If you can model active listening through eye contact, head-nodding, and other social cues, your child may later follow suit.
Emotion Regulation: Teach children techniques for managing their own emotions, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or engaging in creative activities like drawing or journaling. It’s equally as important for you to model these skills. You don’t have to “info dump” on your child, but expressing “When I feel nervous, I like to take deep breaths.” can be extremely helpful in your child also developing healthy emotion regulation skills.
Model Emotional Intelligence: Be a role model for your child by demonstrating emotional intelligence in your own interactions and conflict resolution. Children often learn by example. If a child is observing difficulties with emotion regulation, teaching your child to regulate effectively would then be an unfair expectation. Children often learn through social learning techniques.
Emotion Vocabulary: Expand your child’s emotional vocabulary by introducing them to a range of emotions. The more words they have to describe how they feel, the better they can express themselves. I-Statements, emotion words, and clear articulation of emotional experiences can shape them into phenomenal communicators in adulthood.
Embrace Mistakes: Remind your child that mistakes are part of life and offer valuable learning opportunities. Encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and make amends when necessary. Teach them how to apologize, and that an apology is more than just “sorry.”
Resilience-building: When your child is faced with a daily task that results in intense feelings, positively reinforce their resilience techniques. For example, if your child is struggling with homework, offer some reinforcement such as “I can see your homework is very frustrating, but I’m so proud of the hard work you’re doing.” If they are getting distracted with homework, something such as “I can see you’re feeling silly today, but you’re almost done!” Children can later put their emotion regulation skills to use once they realize resiliency is an important skill for them to maintain!
Read your child books that identify emotions: Reading children’s books that focus on emotions is a powerful tool for nurturing emotional intelligence. These books introduce children to a rich spectrum of feelings and help them empathize with the characters’ experiences, thus enhancing their emotional vocabulary and comprehension. Through stories, children learn to identify, express, and manage their own emotions while recognizing and understanding the feelings of others, promoting empathy and emotional resilience. The “How to Train Your Dragon” series does a great job of helping children understand experiences associated with big emotions.
Set Boundaries: When parents establish clear and consistent boundaries, they provide a secure framework within which children can explore and understand their emotions. These boundaries create a sense of safety and predictability, allowing children to develop a better understanding of their own emotional experiences and how to manage them effectively. By respecting boundaries, children learn the importance of empathy, self-regulation, and healthy communication, all of which contribute to the development of robust emotional intelligence. While emotional intelligence is a vital skill to learn, we don’t want to encourage people-pleasing. Modeling appropriate boundaries can help your child learn what their own boundaries are and set them with others. This does not mean to use intimidation with your children, but rather, boundaries are to be honored, respected, and met with compassion.
Nurturing emotional intelligence in children is an investment in their overall well-being. It equips them with the tools to navigate the complexities of emotions and relationships, fostering a more fulfilling and harmonious life.
As a therapist, I believe that teaching emotional intelligence is one of the greatest gifts we can give to children, helping them grow into emotionally resilient and compassionate individuals who can thrive in a world filled with diverse emotions and experiences.
If your child is struggling with difficulties in coping with big emotions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Exceptional Wellness Counseling. A licensed therapist can help your child make sense of their emotions and help them build resilience as they work through everyday struggles.
Allison Rosa relies heavily on family education to help families learn how to best aid in their child’s needs and diagnosis. Allison works collaboratively with children and families to implement holistic interventions, helping children understand complex emotions. Allison takes a great deal of pride in being a culturally-competent clinician and enjoys working with clients to find interventions that align with the client’s race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and culture.
Check out Allison’s professional bio here.
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