Teaching Your Child Emotional Intelligence

When we talk about “Emotional Intelligence” what is it exactly? Emotional Intelligence is described as the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. We would all like our kids to be able to deal with their emotions on this level but is it even possible? 

Feelings can be complicated for us let alone for our little ones. Especially for a toddler who doesn’t want to share or an older child who doesn’t quite understand why they can’t have a friend over. We all have had situations come up with our little ones.

Because feelings are abstract it can be really hard to explain what feelings are such as feeling proud or sad. It is so important to start teaching little ones about their emotions as early as possible. Learning to deal with our emotions affects every choice we make in our lives. It is no different for our kids.

Steps to Teaching Your Child About Feelings and Emotions

Here are some steps you can take to help your little ones with their emotions.

1. Be a Role Model

It is important to model healthy emotional behavior. Our kids look to us for the way to act and react in situations. If we stay calm during stressful times then we teach our little ones to stay calm too. 

As parents, we need to practice what we preach. So even if our little one is out of control we need to stay calm and talk in a reassuring voice. 

Using a calming voice will help the child to calm down but will also show them there are better ways to handle situations. Being calm at the moment can be hard but it’s very effective. 

I recently had the opportunity to visit a beautiful family on a quick trip. The little girl, who isn’t able to communicate her feelings yet, was having a tough time. She had several meltdowns and her mom handled them beautifully. This little one was unable to let her mom know what she needed and was feeling.  The mom calmly talked to her daughter and she eventually worked through her feelings. 

Having a daycare, I have dealt with this so often that I know from experience it is just a phase. Eventually, the little one will be able to express what she’s feeling. I know when you’re in the middle of this phase it seems like it lasts forever. Hang in there it gets better. 

Another example that comes to mind is when my oldest daughter was 17 years old. You may think how can this apply to my little one now? I bring up this memory to show you how emotional intelligence plays out in your child’s life as they get older.

My daughter was driving home in the winter from visiting a friend. She hit black ice and hit the guard rail and totaled her car.  She was ok, the airbag went off and the car protected her like it’s supposed to do. She knew she had to get out of the car in case it got hit. There was a nice older lady who saw the accident and grabbed my daughter and brought her to her car to stay warm. My daughter calmly called me and told me she was in an accident and she was ok. Being a mom lots of questions were running through my head. She assured me she was safe and the women would stay with her till we could get there. We found out she was an hour away and my husband jumped into his car and went to meet her. When my husband got to my daughter, he checked her over and she was okay just a little shaken. Before they left my husband hugged and thanked the lady for staying with her. She told my husband that he had a beautiful young daughter and he should be proud because she stayed calm the whole time. Staying calm allowed my daughter to think about what she needed to do to stay safe and make the necessary phone calls. I will say after she was home, she was emotional but we were there to support her.  Even though she was older she still needed us to talk to her calmly and be there for her.  

2. Talking to your kids about feelings and emotions

Talking to your kids about your feelings and theirs allows them to relate. Children are often overwhelmed by their feelings because they can’t always identify what they are feeling. 

Oftentimes, kids act out their feelings because they are unable to verbally express to you what those feelings are. 

A great way to help your child recognize feelings is to make faces and have them practice what they think their face would look like while looking in the mirror. 

My youngest daughter is a young, but great mom to my granddaughter Willa. My daughter started very early by introducing and talking about feelings. She made up “Feeling cards” with pictures of what each feeling looked like. She would introduce each feeling card for a week or two. They would talk about the feeling, made faces, and acted them out. When opportunities would come up my daughter would use teachable moments to help Willa better understand. Willa can now recognize all the feelings on the cards and is starting to recognize others’ feelings too. Willa has become very empathetic and when her friends are upset, she is one of the first to console them.

3. Identifying Others Feelings

As in step 1, it’s important to be a role model. As a role model, it’s important to acknowledge your child’s feelings. For example, “I’m sorry you’re mad/angry because you can’t have a friend over right now but maybe we can have them over later on in the week.”

By recognizing our child’s feelings helps to teach them how to recognize others’ feelings. Make sure to praise times your child recognizes others’ feelings and reacts in a positive way. 

Continue to talk about your own feelings and your child’s feelings and use teaching moments when you can.

4. Take into Account outside Influences

Take into account what is going on in your child’s life. Are they tired, hungry, have their schedule changed, started school or a new daycare, acting out, or overstimulated?

Bad behavior can be the result of one or more of these. Most little ones are unable to identify how they are feeling until they are a little older. As adults, we can get grumpy when we feel this way, and so can our little ones. The more in touch your child is with their emotions the more they will be able to ask for what they need.

Using Coping Strategies

Using coping strategies is important. Here are some strategies that will help make things a little easier for all.

  1. Create a safe place your child can express their feelings. As a parent do you pick your child up from daycare or school and the provider or teacher said they had a great day. You get home and your child has a major meltdown. Do you wonder what happened? Your child is letting out all their feelings of the day because they feel safest at home with you. So as hard as it is to be grateful, you are providing a safe place for them to be themselves. When my daughter was taking classes online and taking care of Willa at home, she gave Willa choices of safe places to go. She had the choice of her bed, a cozy spot in a big closet, or her mom’s arms for snuggles. I have to say she often chose the snuggles. This has helped Willa to learn how to cope.
  2. Change your child’s focus. Crank up the music, sing, dance, and be silly. This can help your child realize feelings don’t always have to be serious.  
  3. Read books about feelings, drawing pictures of the way they feel.  Coloring can be very relaxing. Just spending time together can help change the situation.
  4. When the child is ready to talk, sit and listen. Let them know no matter what you still love them.

Children who are able to recognize their feelings are less apt to act out or have temper tantrums. They are instead are able to express their feelings. For example, “That made me mad when you wouldn’t let my friend come over”. As a parent it is easier to talk with a child who expresses their feelings and then you can explain why their friend wasn’t able to come over today. 

Emotions at times can be so overwhelming whether yours or your little ones. We as parents want to do what is best for our kids. Having some ideas to help during this time will make things a little easier. Giving our kids the tools, they need to deal with their emotions is a step in the right direction.

Books about Feelings and Emotions

Related Blog