As caregivers (parents, grandparents, and anyone involved in childrearing), we often focus on helping our children reach academic success. This makes sense; we want to provide them with the best opportunities to thrive in the workforce during adulthood.
However, we sometimes don’t stress the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ). Children who are emotionally intelligent benefit from increased self-awareness, and the ability to regulate their feelings.
They can confidently think through problems and choose the best solutions. Further, a higher EQ has been linked to better group work abilities and higher salary rates later in life.
EQ is a teachable skill that will benefit our children in both the short and long term. To learn more about encouraging EQ in children, keep reading.
To build EQ, children need to understand how to identify their feelings. As caregivers, we can help them grow their emotional vocabulary to better express themselves.
Suppose a child is at the park and looking forward to using the swings, but other children are using them. If they don’t get to swing that day, their caretaker may notice they look sad or upset.
In this case, the caretaker could ask, “Are you feeling disappointed that you didn’t get to use the swings today?” This serves two purposes. First, the child’s feelings are being acknowledged. Feeling seen and understood is an innate human desire. Second, they are being exposed to feeling words that they can use later.
It’s also important to help children build a vocabulary of positive feeling words, like “joyful” and “excited”. We can use tools like the Sunbuddy Feeling Set and Moonbud Feeling Set to expand the emotional vocabulary of ourselves and our children.
React with Empathy
From an adult perspective, a child’s reaction to difficult emotions may seem dramatic. However, while adults have faced many situations, children are relatively new to the world. They may be experiencing an event for the first time, so situations may feel more serious to them.
It can be tempting to dismiss their feelings, particularly ones we see as negative. But responding this way can make them feel like their emotions are wrong. Instead, we can validate their feelings (even if we don’t understand them).
For example, if a child is upset because they don’t want to clean up before playing video games we can say, “I know cleaning up can be boring. It can be difficult to clean up when you don’t feel like it.”
When we show children we understand (in a kind way), they are less likely to act out.
Teach Good Coping Skills
A large part of EQ is knowing how to self-regulate. This means teaching children how to calm themselves down, handle anger and overcome fear in a healthy way.
Teaching children deep breathing is a good way to support emotional regulation. A popular technique is called bubble breaths. Using this method, children take deep breaths through their noses and exhale through their mouths as if they were blowing bubbles.
Another easy method is simply counting to 10, inhaling and exhaling fully with each count:
…and so on.
Creating a toolkit with comforting items like a favorite blanket, pleasant fragrances (e.g., lavender), and workbooks like Cool Down and Work Through Anger can also be useful.
Also, it is important that children see caregivers communicate emotions in a healthy way. By witnessing good emotional expression, children learn what is appropriate.
If a playmate steals a child’s toy, it would be okay for them to say, “I feel mad when people take my toys.” However, it would be inappropriate for them to hit or scream at another child.
The best way for caregivers to model appropriate reactions is to practice themselves.
Strengthen Problem Solving Skills
EQ requires children to learn how to find solutions to challenges. We can help children brainstorm a list of three to five possible solutions and discuss the pros and cons of each.
Encourage them to choose the best option, without making the decision for them. It’s helpful for children to realize that they can solve problems on their own.
Allow them to experience the natural consequences of their problem solving (only when it is safe to do so). This will allow for further conversation about successful outcomes, or what could be done differently next time. As caregivers, it is our responsibility to equip our children with the tools necessary to lead productive, healthy lives. Teaching them emotional intelligence will help them grow into confident, rational, self-aware human beings.