Raising Emotionally Intelligent Kids In A Modern World | A Guide For Parents

Many psychological experts believe that when we educate children about emotions from a young age, we equip them with vital tools to help them navigate their emotional experiences [5]. Families can play a crucial role in bolstering a child’s psychological well-being by helping them learn to identify and manage feelings constructively [1]. Ultimately, raising your child with practices that encourage a high emotional intelligence by empowering a stronger self-awareness and providing them with a solid foundation to connect meaningfully with others [8], fosters compassionate decision-making, and supports their mental health in the long-term [10]. A strong emotional intelligence can positively influence how your child experiences both the real and the digital world [13]. This article will explore the benefits of emotional intelligence and outline nine simple steps to help your child effectively recognise and express their emotions.

What is emotional intelligence and why is it important?

Emotional intelligence is a core skill that governs how we:

  • Recognise and understand our emotions (self-awareness) [1]
  • Manage, control and adapt our emotions, mood and reactions (self-management) [2]
  • Perceive and understand others’ emotions, and use that understanding to relate to others (empathy) [3, 13]
  • Build relationships, negotiate conflict and demonstrate teamwork (social skills) [8]
  • Harness our emotions to commit and work toward achieving a goal (motivation) [2, 12]

Emotional intelligence is essential for building a balanced life. By developing emotional intelligence, young people learn how to recognise their feelings and the important signals these emotions reveal about their needs [3], how to set goals and self-manage their actions [2]. Through social interactions with parents, teachers and peers, they can develop practical skills to positively manage uncomfortable or negative emotions they encounter in life and social situations [3].

Cultivating emotional intelligence has many far-reaching benefits [1]. Children who develop strong emotional intelligence are generally happier, more self-aware [2] and exhibit stronger social competence, demonstrating a sharing attitude with the capacity to help peers resolve their problems through better conflict management [8]. Children who demonstrate emotional intelligence can better control their negative emotions and manage stress, engage in positive social behaviours that help them accomplish their goals [2], and are much less likely to bully online or in person [13]. Finally, a number of studies have linked emotional intelligence to stronger academic, employment and relationship success, making it a significant indicator of lifelong well-being [8].

How can parents help children strengthen their emotional intelligence?

To foster emotional intelligence, a child may need explicit teaching and practice [12]. Parents should endeavour to create a trusting environment where children can safely explore their emotional experiences and develop healthy expression and problem-solving skills [10]. Here are six ways parents can help their child increase their emotional intelligence.

#1 Help your child understand the role of emotions

Start by explaining that emotions are a natural part of the human experience and serve an important purpose [2]. Children thrive when they accept their own and others’ emotions as normal [5]. While emotions may sometimes mislead us, they provide us with important clues to help us pause, consider our needs, or identify that we need to handle something differently in our lives [3]. Teaching children to acknowledge their feelings as signals empower them to both accept them and consider them more closely [3].

#2 Manage how you react to your child’s emotions

As children learn emotional expression through mimicry, how parents react to their child’s emotional expression significantly influences their emotional intelligence [5]. For example, parents who act with self-control, recognise and understand their own feelings, and demonstrate sensitivity to the emotions present in their child, will display behaviours that support the growth of higher emotional intelligence in their child [2]. Embrace emotions, even negative emotions, as an opportunity for connection and learning, to empower them to effectively navigate challenging emotional experiences [11]. Parents should not require a child to amp up their emotional expression for their feelings to be acknowledged [2] or punish, dismiss or scold them for displaying emotions [11]. This can send an unhealthy message that certain feelings are shameful or unacceptable [3]. Instead, by calmly accepting their emotions, a child will internalise the belief that their emotional life is manageable [3].

#3 Help your child learn to verbally label emotions

Encourage your child to develop an awareness of how each emotion manifests as a sensation in their body [2]. For example, butterflies in the stomach may indicate anxiety or tightness in the chest may signal anger. Help them build vocabulary to articulate these emotions concretely and accurately [5]. Once they can recognise and label their emotions, they will be less likely to feel overwhelmed [3, 11].

As they encounter new emotional experiences, they may need to expand their vocabulary. Young children may understand basic emotions such as happiness, sadness and anger, but have difficulty conceptualising complex emotions such as guilt, envy, embarrassment or loneliness [6]. Help them learn to recognise and label these nuanced emotions [2]. Increasing their awareness of complex emotions can help them understand and express their emotional response more precisely without resorting to emotional turbulence or aggressiveness [3, 5].

#4 Encourage empathy

Children develop empathy by experiencing it firsthand [3]. Encouraging your child to practice kindness is only part of the solution. The most powerful way to teach empathy is to demonstrate kindness, including self-compassion, compassion for family, friends and for strangers, in everyday life [8]. Encourage your child to be curious about other people’s feelings and perspectives, and to consider the reasons behind others’ actions [6].

Commit to giving your child your full attention as you acknowledge their perspective by verbally reflecting back what you hear [2]. Ask questions and express empathy for how they feel [2]. Feeling understood triggers soothing biochemicals and strengthens the neural pathways that will allow them to effectively soothe themselves as they grow older [3].

Within your family encourage strong, healthy relationships [7] and teach the importance of sincere apologies, appreciation and gratitude [7]. Show your child how to effectively and empathetically negotiate different viewpoints to maintain relationships while preserving a healthy sense of self [8].

#5 Demonstrate positive emotional intelligence skills in daily life

Children watch their parents closely and naturally learn to imitate their healthy and unhealthy emotional coping habits. Studies suggest that a parent’s emotional intelligence has a direct impact on a child’s development of emotional intelligence [14]. Therefore, by actively cultivating mindfulness and your emotional intelligence, you can help your child increase their own [3]. To help your child become acquainted with a process to manage emotions, describe the emotions that you experience throughout the day and illustrate how you found constructive solutions to handle them [9]. l Encourage your child to demonstrate emotional responsibility in their relationships with others while promoting self-acceptance of mistakes with the understanding that learning how to deal effectively with emotions is an ongoing process [10].

#6 Guide your child toward choosing a healthy emotional expression

Children need to feel safe to express their feelings, but they also need to learn how to find positive, constructive solutions for difficult emotions [3]. Reinforce that while all emotions are acceptable, some behaviours are not [2]. The first step is to help your child reflect on and identify the triggers for their emotions [5]. Talking through what triggers their emotions will help them understand that negative emotions stem from a certain unmet need and may not be what they first appear [5]. For example, what bubbles to the surface as anger may not actually signal true anger but instead, come from feeling helpless or sad.

Your child may need coaching to learn how to slow down and consider whether the behaviour they are exhibiting is a positive way to deal with that emotion [3]. As impulsivity undermines emotional intelligence, encourage them to stop and think about how they feel before they act [9]. Help them understand how to recognise anger, its purpose and role, and how to channel it calmly and constructively [4]. By teaching them how to tolerate negative or uncomfortable emotions in a mindful way, you can help them develop healthy self-control [9] and employ self-soothing to turn negative emotions into neutral or positive ones [3].

Final thoughts

From helping their child understand the role of emotions to recognising emotions as an opportunity for learning, fostering empathy and building constructive problem-solving skills, parents play a crucial role in helping their child develop a strong emotional intelligence. Investing in strategies to help your child’s development of emotional intelligence will help them become more self-aware and socially competent adults with strong conflict management skills [2, 8].

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  1. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/about/programs/bullystoppers/afemotional.pdf
  2. https://www.gottman.com/blog/strengthen-childs-emotional-intelligence/
  3. http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/emotional-intelligence/steps-to-encourage
  4. https://www.heysigmund.com/raising-kids-emotionally-intelligent-kids-teens-anger-how-to-be-the-boss-of-your-brain/
  5. https://psychcentral.com/blog/4-steps-to-increase-your-childs-emotional-intelligence/
  6. https://globalnews.ca/news/3713511/how-to-teach-your-kids-emotional-intelligence-life-skills/
  7. https://www.inc.com/bill-murphy-jr/want-to-raise-emotionally-intelligent-kids-7-important-things-to-teach-them.html
  8. https://www.heysigmund.com/social-emotional-intelligence/
  9. https://www.rd.com/advice/parenting/emotionally-intelligent-child/https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201603/why-we-need-teach-kids-emotional-intelligence
  10. https://www.gottman.com/blog/3-dos-donts-raising-emotionally-intelligent-kids/
  11. https://www.todaysparent.com/kids/kids-health/eq-vs-iq-why-emotional-intelligence-will-take-kids-farther-in-life/
  12. https://theconversation.com/preventing-bullying-with-emotional-intelligence-25992
  13. Turculet A, Tulbure C. (2014). The Relation Between the Emotional Intelligence of Parents and Children.
  14. https://www.gottman.com/blog/turn-toward-instead-of-away/ 

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