Raising emotionally intelligent children
There is a lot of messaging aimed at parents around the importance of fostering academic intelligence in your kids. However, that is not the only kind of intelligence that matters.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) refers to how well we express, process and control our own emotions, and how well we understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. It’s a skillset that kids can begin learning at any age and will deeply improve their success and wellbeing.
HOW DOES EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE BENEFIT KIDS?
Studies indicate that emotional intelligence brings a variety of benefits to your child which advantage them throughout their entire life. Here are just a few of the ways emotional intelligence can be helpful:
Higher academic performance
Children with stronger levels of emotional intelligence tend to perform better on standardised tests and have higher grades.
The wisdom, empathy and skills that are associated with EQ help kids manage conflict and develop deeper friendships. Adults with high levels of emotional intelligence also report better relationships, both personally and at work.
Success during adulthood
Long term studies have shown that a child’s social and emotional skills in the first couple of school years may predict their lifelong success. Children who can share, cooperate and follow directions at age 5 appear to be more likely to gain college degrees and begin working full-time jobs by their mid-twenties.
Better mental health
People with a strong level of emotional intelligence are less likely to experience depression and other mental illnesses. When we look at the overall picture, the benefits of emotional intelligence make sense. A child who can calm themselves when they feel angry or upset, has better skills to cope in tough circumstances.
Equally, when a kid can express their emotions in a healthy way, they are more likely to maintain healthier relationships than a child who screams or reacts by saying mean things when they’re angry. The good news is everyone has the capacity to learn emotional intelligence skills. Children simply need adults to show them how.
HOW TO FOSTER EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Kids need to know how to recognise what they feel. You can help them by naming the emotion you think your child is experiencing. Try phrases such as “it seems like you feel angry right now. Is that right?” or “are you feeling disappointed that we aren’t going to the playground today?”
Emotional words such as annoyed, hurt, sad or frustrated will grow a vocabulary to express feelings. Be sure to share words for positive feelings too, such as happy, excited, amazed and hopeful.
It’s easy to minimise your child’s upset, especially if they’re being a tad dramatic! But dismissive comments can teach your child that the way they feel is wrong. A healthier approach is to validate their feelings even if you don’t understand why they’re frustrated. Let’s say your child isn’t allowed to go outside and play until their playroom is tidy and they get worked up. Here, you could say “I feel upset when I don’t get to do what I want too. It’s tough sometimes to keep working when I don’t want to.”
By showing your child that you understand how they’re feeling on the inside, they’ll feel less need to express feelings through tears and shouting.
Be a positive role model
The best way to teach your child how to express feelings is by demonstrating these skills in your own behaviour. Use emotional words in normal conversation with your child, with sentences such as “I feel happy when we have our family movie night”or “I feel disappointed when the chores aren’t done.”
Teach coping techniques
Knowing how to deal with complicated feelings will set your child up for success in life. Being able to self-soothe, manage anger or look at fears is invaluable.
Get your child to take a few deep breaths when angry. Engage them with the idea of calming activities when they’re upset, like listening to gentle music, taking a bath, or anything that makes them feel settled. Colouring books can be a great way to deal with stress, for all ages (including adults!). Having techniques to address different feelings gives your child tools to navigate regulating their own emotions. This will be a hugely beneficial skill in life.
Make it an ongoing goal
Much like nurturing IQ, there is always room for improvement when it comes to your kid’s emotional intelligence. Their skills will be tested by the ups and downs of childhood and adolescence. As they mature, they will come across different challenges to their skills. It’s a great idea to make skill building a goal in your everyday life. This means finding as many ways as you can to discuss feelings. This could be the emotions of various characters in books or movies.
Discuss better ways problems could have been resolved or relations with other characters could have been improved. With older children, talk about issues on the news or real-life situations. Make these conversations regular and normal.
Use your child’s mistakes as learning opportunities to grow – turn a negative into a positive. There will always be times when they act out in anger or they hurt someone’s feelings. In these instances, take the time to talk about how they can do better in the future. With your ongoing encouragement, support and guidance, your child can develop the emotional intelligence and mental resilience they’ll need to succeed in life.