How is everyone’s week going? Mine’s been a little hectic trying to get back into the swing of things after Disney, but I’m getting there. Long before I was a writer, I was a teacher and before that, I was a school psychologist for three years. I decided that career wasn’t for me, but I love the subjects of psychology and human development. One topic I always found interesting was emotional intelligence and with everything going on in the world today and all I’ve been through personally over the past year, I’ve been thinking about the emotional intelligence of my own two boys. While cognitive intelligence and academic performance are obviously important, I feel like it all begins with a solid emotional foundation.
Today on the blog, I’m combining some knowledge from my former careers with research I’ve read recently on the topic of emotional IQ. Below are some tips, strategies, and guidelines that will help all of us parents as we work to create individuals who are compassionate, curious critical tinkers.
Our children have emotional intelligence in the same way they possess cognitive intelligence, or what we often refer to as “IQ”. According to Psychology Today, emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to identify and manage emotions and generally includes the following three skills.
Three components of emotional intelligence
- Emotional awareness: Ability to identify personal emotions and the emotions of other people
- Emotional harnessing: Capacity to harness emotions and apply them to thinking and problem solving tasks
- Emotional management: Ability to manage personal emotions as well as the ability to cheer up or calm down other people
A number of factors contribute to our children’s ability to develop strong or weak emotional intelligences. Some factors may include innate temperament, prenatal care (or lack thereof), genetics, early child rearing, mental health diagnoses, and exposure to trauma. Unfortunately, these factors can be negative and are challenging to regulate or modify for some children.
Despite some contributing factors being out of a parent’s control, there are steps we can all take to foster a strong emotional intelligence in our children.
Tips to nurture emotional intelligence
- Honor and validate feelings: Situations that upset children may seem silly to an adult but in a child’s mind and heart, their feelings are real and honest, so we need to be empathetic and honor those feelings before moving on to calming and problem solving.
- Allow expression: If children are upset, let them show it. If they’re crying and kicking, allow it, as long as they are not hurting themselves, hurting someone else, or destroying property. We all know how brutal a tantrum can be to survive but often times, the child feels much better afterward.
- Listen whole-heartedly: When our kiddos are telling us what caused them to be upset, we need to listen without distraction. Even though a child’s story can often be convoluted and long-winded, it apparently makes sense to them, so we should put dishes, phones, work, or whatever else aside and truly listen.
- Teach and model problem solving: A very smart counselor told me the following. Emotions themselves are not problems; the emotions are sources of information that help us develop a plan to solve whatever may be causing the emotions. Once we stop seeing the emotions as the “problems,” a paradigm shift occurs within our minds. With both adults and children, once the emotions are accepted and understood, the emotional charge dissipates which leaves an open mind for problem solving. Help your children brainstorm solutions, but resist the temptation to rush in and handle the situation yourself. This only enables them and can lead to over-dependency later in childhood and adolescence.
- Use childhood interests, tools and skills to teach: Talking and brainstorming can work very well for older children, but younger children will probably need something more on their developmental level. Science tells us little ones of all species work out emotions through play. Play is the work of children, so if your little ones are struggling to understand or cope with emotions, play games, read books about similar situations, use art, mold clay, or role play with dolls and action figures.
A respected mentor once told me, “Good parents are students of their children.” I love that concept because as young as they are, our kids possess distinct characteristics and personalities. They are their own people. When fostering positive emotional intelligence in our children, we can use their inherent dispositions, interests, and talents in addition to the five steps proven to be effective by research. While ensuring our kids finish their homework and school projects, sometimes those tasks shouldn’t be our primary concern because in life, it’s often emotional intelligence that builds meaningful relationships and brings professional success.