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Raising your kids with emotional intelligence

21 June 2013

Foster emotional intelligence in kids: Listen, process, name, validate, create a safe space, teach conflict resolution, be patient, set an example.

"Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge."

Audre Lorde John Gottman, in his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, suggests, that when you help your child understand and handle potentially overpowering feelings such as anger, frustration, or confusion, you develop his emotional intelligence quotient, or emotional IQ. But why would this be considered important? Well, according to many child psychologists, a child with a higher emotional intelligence (EQ) is better able to cope with his or her feelings; can regulate his moods; manage conflicts with friends and parents; understand others and relate well to them. This enables him to form stronger friendships more easily than a child with lower EQ. As if that weren’t reason enough, many studies suggest that individuals with higher emotional intelligence are more likely to succeed in later life.

Great to know, but what next? As your child grows, teaching him to deal with his feelings in healthy, productive ways becomes more and more important. It’s not always easy navigating this tricky terrain, but good habits learned young will reap rewards in later life.

Teach Emotional Intelligence to your kids. Here are a few easy steps to try:

Listen and reflect

First, listen carefully to what your child is saying when he talks about how he feels, and then mirror it back for him. You can also share a time when you experienced similar feelings. It often helps to know that you are not alone and can bring a sense of relief to a child to realise that others have also felt the same and that the feelings do pass.

Help him to process his feelings

Think about the times when you have been overwhelmed by your emotions. If they can be scary and confusing for you as an adult, then you can certainly understand how children can find themselves overwhelmed by what they’re feeling from time to time. In order to share his feelings, your child must first have a basic understanding of how to process them.

Name those feelings

Your child needs to know how to properly name his/her feelings in order to share them with others, so make sure that you take time to work on his emotional vocabulary when the opportunity arises. You can help build your child's emotional intelligence by giving him words for his feelings: disappointed, frightened, excited and so on. There’s a difference between anger and fear, but it can be quite difficult to see those differences from the outside looking in. It may take a bit of time and detective work but it is time that will be well spent.

Validate his/her emotions

When your child is disappointed by the unfairness or fickleness of life or scared by the bogeys in the closet, we often respond with comments such as “there's nothing to be upset about" or “there's nothing to be scared of". Although this often comes from a place of genuine love or caring, the message it sends out is that his/her feelings are not important or that he/she is over-reacting. Don’t minimize his/her feelings when he brings them to you. Instead, try to show empathy and listen to what he’s/she's saying. Acknowledging his/her emotions go a long way to helping them to manage them.

Create an open and safe environment for discussion about emotions

It is highly unlikely that your child will be willing to share their feelings with others if they don't feel safe sharing them in their own home. Create an environment where they know that they are allowed to talk about their feelings, even if they’re angry or frustrated feelings. It may also help to encourage them to ask questions about feelings. This will help them to learn to understand emotions better and ultimately recognise them in themselves and later in others.

Use conflicts to teach resolution

This involves a lot of scripting for your toddler and even pre-schoolers. "I know you are upset with your sister for grabbing your crayon, but you may not hit her." Provide your child with alternative ways to get angry. These ways can be stomping feet; doing an angry dance; singing an angry song or whatever works for your family and your child. Your child needs to know that there is a very big difference between sharing their feelings and showing their anger or fear through a physically violent reaction. Talk about why violence is never okay, and make sure that you work on more productive and safe ways of sharing those feelings.

Don’t demand rationality

Even adults have trouble maintaining some semblance of rational thought when they’re overcome by emotion, and they have a lifetime of experience from which to draw. Your child’s feelings can be overwhelming and scary to them, and their reactions to them may not always be rational. Understand that it may take a bit of time for an upset child to calm down enough to begin the process of expressing themselves, and that some of the feelings themselves will be irrational fears.

Set an example

It always amazes me how often I see myself in my children’s words and actions. They are little sponges, modelling what they see and taking their cues from the adults around them. Practice the behaviour you want your child to learn. If you want your child to express their feelings readily, you have to be prepared to do the same. Be honest about your own feelings. When you pretend you aren't angry and you are, this is confusing for your child. Showing your child that difficult feelings can be managed by acknowledging you are upset without criticism or harshness goes much further in teaching emotional intelligence than talking about it. So be careful how you deal with everyday situations and how you respond to your child’s emotions. Beware of angry outbursts and harsh words. As hard as it may be at the time, responses such as “It upsets me when you do that" are far more appropriate than "You’re impossible!" Excessive criticism also has the effects of running down your child's emotional self-confidence. Depending how you look at it, your IQ is more or less determined at birth and very little can be done with regards to improving this. Your EQ on the other hand can be developed and improved with the right coaching and nurturing.

The EQ-i Youth measures:

  • the level of emotional and social functioning in children and adolescents

  • How children and adolescents perceive and express themselves

  • How they develop and maintain social relationships

  • How they cope with challenges

  • How they use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way

Learn more about this world-class assessment here


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