Photo by Emma Wood
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the ability to identify, understand and manage one’s own emotions and to have empathy for others. The importance of emotional intelligence for kids cannot be stressed enough. EQ shows itself in a child’s social skills, control, confidence, motivation and creative thinking – qualities and skills that are typically not taught in school, yet are vital for success, both in and out of the classroom.
Children that develop a high EQ are more likely to cultivate positive relationships, communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, overcome difficult situations and manage stress. As these children enter adulthood, their sharpened EQ can help them be happier and healthier in their careers and relationships.
How Children Develop Emotional Intelligence
Kids are a product of their environment and learn from watching the interactions of the key adults – parents, caregivers and teachers – in their lives. Caregivers with a healthy EQ understand what the little ones in their care are feeling and why. These adults are adept at demonstrating and teaching children how to interpret and respond to their own and others’ feelings in an appropriate way.
Ways to Strengthen Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence
Model Empathy. First and foremost, express empathy for your child, and also let him see your compassion for others. Observe and take notice of what’s happening in your child’s life, show enthusiasm in their interests, and share in both their triumphs and distress. Little ones that feel seen and valued are more likely to show compassion, respect and empathy for others.
Meet Your Child’s Emotional Needs. Strive to develop a strong, secure attachment with your child by observing and meeting your child’s emotional needs. Guiding your child through difficult moments will deepen your child’s trust in you and help them feel secure, thereby increasing the tendency to show empathy for others.
Identify Feelings. Help your young child understand his emotions by naming them along with a situation. For example, you could say, “Splashing in puddles makes you happy!” Or, “You’re disappointed that the swing is not available right now.” As your child builds connections with how certain situations make them feel, you can ask questions like, “What makes you mad?” or “What makes you sad?” Another way to identify emotions is to read picture books with your child and talk about the characters’ expressions and how they might be feeling.
Teach Them Techniques. Young children often have difficulty handling strong emotions, and especially strong, negative emotions. Once their feelings have been identified, help them navigate solutions to help them feel better. For a toy squabble, you might say, “You feel upset with Sarah because she has the toy you want to play with. It’s not available right now. Would you like me to read a book to you, or do you want to ride the swing?” With time, and with practice, your child will learn to communicate with others about their feelings and work together to solve problems.
Give Your Child Opportunities to Be of Service to Others. Whether you give your child responsibilities at home or take them to volunteer with an organization, being of service to the family or community will help grow your child’s awareness of others’ needs. Let your child take care of the family pet, water plants or sweep the kitchen. Volunteer with your child at the animal shelter or collect canned foods to donate to the food bank.
How to Strengthen Your Own Emotional Intelligence
If you feel that you could use some help raising your own EQ, there are many resources available to you. Here are a few books and websites to start you off:
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Raising Children Compassionately: Parenting the Nonviolent Communication Way by Marshall B. Rosenberg
Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka