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Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children: 8 Things you Should be doing.

Research tells us that children with high emotional intelligence are more successful in life. In fact, a child's EQ (Emotional Intelligence quotient) is more clearly linked to success than their IQ!

In fact, EQ may be the most important indicator of personal growth, long-term career success, positive outlooks, and better relationships. Fortunately, the Montessori philosophy is lined up perfectly with suggestions that EQ experts, like Dr. Gottman, give for developing emotional awareness.

Whether you are worried about your child's lack of emotional regulation or you're simply wanting to make sure your child is on track, the list of tips in this article will help you create an environment that fosters Emotional intelligence in your child.

But first, let's give a quick review of the foundational concepts so that we are all on the same page.

What Is Emotional Intelligence in Children?

Emotional Intelligence is a type of social intelligence that helps people understand and manage their emotions and relationships. 

two girls hugging

Or more simply, emotional intelligence is the “ability to identify, evaluate, control, and express emotions.”  

How important is emotional intelligence?

Parents and teachers often focus exclusively on academic performance, believing that IQ is the best indicator for success in life. But in truth, emotional intelligence is a huge factor that can positively or negatively impact your child's school performance and relationships.

Working on your child’s emotional intelligence will help them to be able to process and control their emotions, which will also prevent or work through any aggressive behavior you may be experiencing.

It also makes them more empathetic and capable of building better friendships.

In addition, a study found that highly emotionally intelligent adults are more successful in the workplace as they are better at communicating, are team players, and tend to be great leaders.

Can emotional intelligence be developed or is it innate

mother and son talking. encouraging emotional intellegence

Like almost every other major development area, there is a lot of debate over “nature vs. nurture” where emotional intelligence is concerned.

There is plenty of research out there showing us that different types of parents have a profound effect on a child’s Emotional Intelligence Quotient.  

But unfortunately, this still doesn’t do much to prove either theory. Yes, parenting styles have an impact, but a parent's genetics also have an impact.

So is emotional intelligence something you're born with, or can it be developed?

I firmly believe that the answer is both.

Everyone has some level of empathy, but it’s true that some people are born with more natural empathy than others; for them, this trait may come easily.

If your child seems to be less empathetic than others, you don’t necessarily need to worry. The good news is that emotional intelligence can also be a learned skill. 

It’s also important to keep in mind that young children are very egocentric (self-centered) by nature and they will need guidance and patience to help them develop a healthy level of empathy.

What should you be doing on a daily basis to build your Child’s EQ?

montessori quote respecting child and encouraging emotional intellengece

Teaching emotional intelligence is more of a journey than a destination.  In fact, many adults are still working towards a high EQ. 

However, even though it’s a process, there are definitely simple ways to instill better emotional skills in your children. The list below is just a few things you can do every day to help your child develop better emotional regulation.

Compress your child’s nervous system with a Hug

Children have big feelings about even the smallest things. But unlike adults, they generally lack the coping techniques to deal with them.   

If you’ve been trying to convince your child to control their emotions while they're being bombarded with negative feelings, it’s important to understand that your child may not be in the right emotional state to work on building those skills.  

So instead of pressing your child to “calm down” you may have to help them cope with those intense feelings by implementing some of your own coping techniques.

One of the simplest ways to calm an emotionally distraught child is by simply giving them a long firm squeeze around their core. Most people don’t realize this, but a good hug actually serves an important function… It compresses the nervous system and helps induce calm.

After your child has gotten a handle on those big feelings, then you can work on talking through them, identifying them, and problem-solving.

image of emotional intelligence infographic.

Listen Empathetically and Acknowledge Feelings

You’ve most likely heard it said that “children are like sponges.”  The reason that phrase is uttered so often is that it’s very, very true.

Children are much more likely to do what they see rather than what they are told.  

So it stands to reason that being empathetic towards your child will go a long way towards teaching empathy for the emotions of others.

In fact, I believe that empathetic listening might be even more important for children than it is for adults.   

As a little person, your life is often determined for you in many ways.   You don’t always have a say in where you’ll be, what you’ll be doing, or how long you’ll be doing it.

It’s easy to see why little ones may feel a bit like their feelings aren’t being considered. But showing empathy towards your child’s feelings will go a long way to remedy that. 

See Also: Why Consent Matters: A Montessori Perspective

Be a Good Role Model by Talking about Your own Emotions

Emotionally Intelligent children tend to have parents that are emotionally intelligent as well. That means that if you haven’t worked on developing your own EQ, it may be time to get started. 

Focus on labeling your own feelings about issues out loud so that your children see you labeling feelings and reacting to them. However, keep in mind that your reactions to emotions will likely become their reactions to those same feelings. 

So make sure to keep your cool as much as possible.

Own up to your own mistakes in front of your kids

One kind of the major elements of EQ is the ability to admit mistakes. 

Of course, no one really likes to admit when they’ve done something wrong but teaching our kids that even adults slip up will go a long way to counteract their natural desire to hide from mistakes.

So next time you do something that you wish hadn't done, don't be afraid to admit it. Think of it as an opportunity to teach a valuable life skill.

Teach Children the Healthy Way to Resolve Conflicts

Teaching children to resolve conflict in an appropriate way will help them build better relationships with siblings and peers but it can get a bit tricky at times.

Some Montessori schools have a Peace Table in their classrooms, where children can sit and work out issues. This is also a great idea to do in your home for siblings.

The peace table concept basically allows your child to learn problem-solving skills and empathy simultaneously by teaching them how to talk through their conflicts with others.

This is a skill that will not only help you preserve a bit of sanity, but it will also be an incredible asset to your child’s social skill repertoire.

Teach children to identify their own feelings through narration

As adults, we have a tendency to identify positive feelings for our children but we rarely ever identify negative emotions. In fact, rather than helping them identify these feelings, we tend to press them to “calm down.”

Unfortunately, that means that our children are sometimes left without words to express the way they feel at a particular moment, or worse, they believe they will get into trouble if they express themselves.

Being intentional about teaching children emotional awareness can actually be quite a bit simpler than you may think.

Starting when they are toddlers narrate their feelings as well as your own and others. This has the added plus of exposing them to more vocabulary and encouraging speech development.

For Example:

I see you’re angry that your friend took your toy.” “You seem sad that we need to leave.” Be careful not to say things like “when you do that it makes mommy sad.” They are not responsible for making you happy or for your feelings.

The idea is to make them genuinely aware of different emotions in themselves and others without creating a need to please people at the expense of their own needs or making their self-worth depend on keeping people around them happy.

Teach Emotional Self-regulation

A child’s emotions can often be all over the map. One moment they are happy and playful and in the next breath they are angry and unreasonable.  

Although this is fairly common among young children, teaching them to recognize and control those big emotions with coping skills is of utmost importance.

Focus on introducing and practicing coping mechanisms and mindfulness with your child.

This can be as simple as taking deep breaths, doing yoga, or going to a quiet area or sensory activities.

Similarly, you can make a quiet area where your child can go for some space if they need it. This is NOT a time-out area, but rather a place they are free to come and go, that is relaxing, and a safe space if they’re feeling overwhelmed.

things to say instead of stop crying, encouraging emotional intellegence
Source: The Gottman Institute

In one of my classrooms, we named it a “Relaxation Station,” which made it fun and attractive for kids to want to go to. Here are some tips to having a great Relaxation Station of your own:

  • Cozy seating (floor pillow, bean bag chair or blankets)
  • Books
  • Pictures of different emotions
  • Mirror
  • Calming/sensory bottles
  • Comfort toys or items
  • Away from loud, high traffic areas
  • Something tactile (stress ball, fidget toy, contact paper sticky side up)
  • Reminder of whatever coping practices you’ve implemented: If you do yoga, have a yoga poster. Visual reminders are always helpful.

If you don’t have the space for a quiet area, you can have a “calm down box,” check out some great ideas here. This works better for older kids who can communicate when they need to use the box.

Expose Them To New Experiences And People

The most emotionally intelligent kids have had a lot of opportunities to practice and observe social skills.  So if you’ve been a one-man-show at home with your toddler, you may want to consider branching out.

There are tons of ways to get your kids into social situations on a regular basis. Taking dance classes, doing sports, going to church, or even just strolling through a department store can be a learning opportunity for your little one.

A great way to expose your kids to new experiences without even leaving home is to introduce books about emotions and rotate them into your regular reading.

Even if you don’t have any books that are overtly about emotions, you can discuss the feelings of the characters in almost any book. If there’s a sad character, ask your child why they think the character is sad.

Make it Fun: Emotional Intelligence Activities for Kids

  • Practice making different “faces” in a mirror with your child
  • Paper Plate emotions
  • Playdoh faces – you can get a free printable mat here
  • “How do you feel today?” Chart
  • Monster Craft (this can go along with the “Big Green Monster” book)
  • “How We Show Our Feelings” discussion chart
  • Role playing with toys/puppets
  • Emotion card game – pick a card and ask “what would make someone feel like that?”
  • Process Art – read more on this topic here and a list of ideas here.

There are countless resources online for printables to use in your home or classroom. There are many different printables for emotion cards as well, from cartoons to real kids.

Using some of these tips and resources will nurture your child’s emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent children are happier children! I’d love to hear about some fun activities that you’ve done with your children!

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Maria Yakimchuk

Thursday 19th of December 2019

Great article. Yes, many people don't understand the importance of emotional intelligence and how important it is to teach your children early.


Thursday 19th of December 2019

Narrating feelings is something I always try my best to do to help my toddler understand but I find it so difficult to remember to do this in stressful situations.


Wednesday 18th of December 2019

I think you and I have a lot in common! I very much enjoyed this read and agreed with everything you said here


Wednesday 18th of December 2019

I love the seating idea! Many children don't do very well in "grown up" seating areas! Great read!