Emotional intelligence is the “ability to identify, evaluate, control and express emotions.” We tend to focus on academic intelligence, but emotional intelligence is a huge factor in a child’s success in school.
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 strong friendships. In addition, a study found that highly emotional intelligent adults are more successful in the workplace as they are better at communicating, are team players and tend to be great leaders.
How To Improve Emotional Intelligence
There are many easy ways to encourage development of emotional intelligence that can be added into your everyday life.
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. Examples:
“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.
Acknowledge and Discuss Feelings
Acknowledge their emotions, not minimize them. Understandably we want to “fix” things for our children so we focus on calming a child. We tell them “it’s okay” or “you’re fine“.
However, sometimes that can be doing a disservice to them. Imagine how you feel when you’re upset and someone tells you to “calm down” or “it’s not a big deal“.
It makes you feel unheard, that your feelings aren’t valid, and it certainly doesn’t make whatever feelings you have just magically go away, right? Now imagine how it feels when you’re confiding or venting to a friend and they genuinely listen and say “I understand” or “that’s tough“.
We should treat children the same way, with the same amount of respect and empathy.
You may worry that not calming them down will encourage “big” feelings and tantrums, but in order to learn how to process feelings and eventually regulate them, you need to allow them to experience them.
This can mean simply being there with them through their feelings or talking it through. Be aware that every child’s needs are different.
As Dr. Maria Montessori believed, children have an absorbent mind so be responsive and empathetic to them and others. They learn empathy by experiencing and seeing it.
Being responsive and attentive to them will encourage a secure, healthy attachment, which is incredibly important according to the Attachment Theory.
Expose them to all types of people from all different backgrounds. There are connections between children who have been exposed to multiculturalism in school and increased empathy.
Humans tend to find it easier to empathize with people who are in some way similar to them. So, have discussions about similarities between themselves and others.
If someone is upset, talk about how you would make them feel better and praise them when they show compassion: “That was kind of you to share your toy with your friend when he/she was sad”.
Please note, compassion should never be forced (such as forced apologies) or rewarded, as this has been proven that it has the opposite effect.
Introduce and practice coping mechanisms and mindfulness. This can be breathing exercises, yoga, going to a quiet area or sensory activities.
Other Ways For Nurturing Emotional Intelligence in the Home Environment
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.
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. If you’re experiencing alot of sibling rivalry, check out Sue’s article about getting kids to get along here.
Similarly, you can make a quiet area where your child can go for some space if they need. 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.
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)
- Pictures of different emotions
- 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.
Fun Activities and Lessons To Improve Emotional Intelligence In Children
- 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 some fun activities that you’ve done with your children!