How to Help Support and Build your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

Dad helping to build his daughter’s emotional intelligence.

Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children

As parents, we are concerned about our children’s intelligence. This includes emotional intelligence, and raising emotionally intelligent children is vital to their future success. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise, understand, and manage emotions, both in ourselves and in others. Developing emotional intelligence helps people navigate relationships successfully, make good decisions, and manage stress. How can you foster an emotionally intelligent home environment in order to equip your child with the skills needed to understand and express their emotions in a healthy way?

Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, called EQ, benefits a person throughout his or her lifetime. However, a low EQ can create challenges. Here are some emotional intelligence benefits:

  • EQ and IQ are connected. Children with high emotional intelligence tend to have higher grades and do better on standardized tests.
  • People with EQ have better relationships. Kids with emotional intelligence are better able to manage conflict and build deep friendships. Adults with high EQ report better personal and professional relationships.
  • A child with high EQ is likely to be a more successful adult. Over 19 years, the American Journal of Public Health studied the social and emotional skills of kindergarteners and how those skills impacted their adulthood. The research showed that those who were better able to share, cooperate, and follow directions when they were five years old were more likely to have college degrees and full-time jobs by age 25.
  • Those with high EQ struggle less with mental health issues. They are less likely to experience depression and other mental illnesses.

It makes sense that an emotionally intelligent child, able to calm his or her angry feelings and express emotions in a healthy way, will grow to be an adult who is better able to maintain healthy relationships. Fortunately, all children can learn emotional intelligence skills. Here’s how you can help your children develop theirs.

Be a Good Role Model

This means working on your own emotional intelligence. Model positive behavior for your children, showing them that they can express their feelings in a healthy way, listen to other people, and successfully work through conflicts. Let them see you responding to challenging situations with patience, and take the time to talk to them about their feelings. Use feeling words in conversation, and help your child learn to express their own emotions.

Help Kids Name Their Emotions

To become an emotionally intelligent person, a child needs to develop the vocabulary for emotional expression. Help your children put words to their emotions, by talking through what you suspect they’re feeling. To a child who doesn’t want to share a toy, you might say, “It looks like you feel angry. Is that right?” For a child who is sad, you might say, “Are you feeling disappointed that your friend can’t come over?” Using words like angry, upset, painful, shy, along with happy, joy, thrilled, excited, and hopeful, can help teach your child the vocabulary necessary for emotionally intelligent self-expression.

Validate Feelings

Emotions have merit and serve a purpose. The adrenaline spike of anger can spur someone to action, while the down mood you feel when your sad slows you down and gives you time to reflect. Your child’s feelings are real and valuable, so when your child is expressing emotions, listen carefully, giving your full attention. Reflect what you’re hearing back to your child, to express that you understand what is being felt and expressed.

Model Empathy

It’s easy to minimize what someone else is feeling, especially if it seems like the person is exaggerating or being dramatic. Being dismissive, though, teaches children that their feelings are wrong. Showing empathy does not mean that you agree with the person’s point of view, but that you understand how that emotion feels. It is important for your child to feel heard and understood, and when you show empathy to your child, allowing the expression of emotions without judgement, you are teaching your child to be not only honest with his or her own emotions, but empathetic to others as well.

Teach Coping and Problem-solving Skills

Look at your child’s emotions as an opportunity to connect and coach him or her through a challenging situation. Teach children that while emotions are acceptable, all behaviors are not ok. Set limits that encourage appropriate behaviors, and help your child manage emotions in a healthy way. You might teach a child to take deep breaths to calm down from anger, or you could help your child create a “calm-down kit”, with a coloring book, soothing music, good-smelling lotions, and other things that help your child regulate emotions. In addition to helping your children cope with their own emotions, help them develop the ability to think critically and find creative solutions to problems. Once you’ve identified the feelings, work with your child on brainstorming ideas to fix what’s gone wrong. They don’t all have to be good ideas; the goal is just to learn to brainstorm. You can also use role-playing scenarios to determine how to address a problem in the future. Act as a coach in the problem solving process, don’t solve the problems for them. Teaching your children to find creative ways to solve their problems will make them more resilient and better able to handle the challenges that come their way in the future.

Help Kids Become More Self Aware

It’s important to encourage your child to express feelings and thoughts, but along with that should come a sense of self-awareness. Give them a safe, supportive, non-judgmental environment in which to express themselves, and teach them to use creative activities to express their feelings. Then work with them on self-awareness, helping them learn to recognize their own feelings and notice how those feelings affect their judgment and behavior.

Give Praise for Progress

When you praise effort and progress, you demonstrate that you appreciate your child’s hard work. This can help motivate them to strive for success, and can help boost their emotional intelligence. You want your child to feel confident, and you also want to foster a mindset focused on growth. By focusing on progress, rather than only acknowledging accomplishment, you can help your child stay focused on growing and learning. Use mistakes as an opportunity to learn, and talk about how to better handle similar situations in the future. Admit to your child when you make mistakes, too, and make growing in emotional intelligence an ongoing aspiration for each person in your family.

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