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How to Help Your Children Develop Emotional Intelligence

We sometimes let the emotions get the best of us and say things we normally would not say. Children do this almost all the time when their emotions run high. Picture this. Jack is angry that his painting is not as good as Mary's. However, he doesn't start acting up. Instead, he tells Mary he likes her painting more and that he will try and do better next time. This is emotional intelligence (EI).

It might not seem like a big deal at a young age, but EI becomes crucial for how well we interact with the world as we grow up.

The meaning of emotional intelligence is not directly tied to IQ. However, in some situations, it might matter more than IQ. 

From Emotional Self-Regulation to Emotional Intelligence

Self-regulation is our capability of responding to emotions. With practice and time, we can learn to control our feelings in critical situations rather than react on impulse.

By the age of four, children begin to "cheat" at emotional intelligence by trying to eliminate the irritating external stimuli around them. They might cover their eyes or ears to keep away any unwanted sight or noise.

You must guide them throughout this process of dealing with emotions. Essentially, there are two main categories of emotional intelligence strategies. 

The first one deals with the problem. If you want your anger and frustration to disappear, you need to solve the problem.

The second one is about understanding your emotions and living with them. When the problem is unsolvable and out of the subjects' reach, they need to focus on coping with the intense feelings.

Building emotional intelligence in children is important

Emotional intelligence is not some abstract concept. It is actually very practical. Essentially, it means being smart about your emotions, understanding and managing them.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman has first formulated this concept in his 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

According to the author, there are five fundamental parts to emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness – we understand what and why we are feeling in a certain way
  • Motivation – we keep fighting towards our goal despite the negative feelings and doubts that we might be feeling
  • Empathy – we understand how others might be feeling in specific situations
  • Social skills – we can predict what kind of behaviour could get a positive response from the people around

Out of these five, self-regulation has played a significant role in predicting children's achievements later in life. According to studies, children who can resist their impulses, like instant gratification, can accomplish their goals easier in life. 

Understanding our emotions

Emotions serve a purpose. They're not just inconveniences that can make us overreact. On the contrary, they help us navigate the world's social fabric. The first step towards building emotional intelligence in children is teaching them about feelings. 

Our primary emotions are part of our human evolution, and they are extremely helpful in certain situations. 

Whenever your children feel sad, talk to them about it. The purpose of sadness is to slow us down and allow us to reflect on what has happened and why. It is not pleasant. In fact, it is hard work to see through your sadness and understand its antecedents. But you can train this. Try to do this together with your little ones every time you see them down in the dumps. 

Anger, on the other hand, speeds things up. It sends blood to our extremities and mobilises an immense quantity of energy in our bodies. As part of human evolution, anger helped us prepare for a fight.

However, in today's modern world, anger can motivate us to take action. Nevertheless, the action should be taken only after the bitterness is gone. Explain to your child that it's ok to be angry because you can't do a math problem, but it's not ok to tear the notebook apart and throw the book away. That won't solve anything. They need to acknowledge their anger, cool down, and start with fresh motivation.

Whenever your child is throwing a tantrum, calm them down by talking to them and getting to the core of the problem. Giving them a tablet or a phone to pacify their negative feelings won't do any good. In fact, it would only damage their ability to develop emotion regulation.

Five tips for developing emotional intelligence in children

1. Watch your children's emotions closely

Be aware of how certain challenges and activities make your little ones feel. Encourage them to talk about that. Let your child name their emotions. (Eg. "It made me feel angry, jealous", etc.)

2. Interpret emotions together

Spend some time watching TV together and play a little emotions-reading game. Turn off the sound and let your child guess how specific characters feel. Guide them towards reading basic body language and expressions.

3. Listen and communicate more

Whenever your child is acting on impulse, make it an opportunity to communicate and connect. Whenever they complain about their issues, tell them about your day and how you've overcome your challenges, how that made you feel. 

4. Come up with learning opportunities

Engage in some play-pretend games with specific scenarios where you have specific roles. After the game is over, talk with your children about how they were feeling in their characters' shoes. 

5. Insist on problem-solving

Whenever your children are angry about something, ask them what the real problem is. Then have them think about solutions that will make it go away. If it's something that's out of their control, explain that it's not their fault and that the best thing they can do is learn to cope with their feelings. 

All in all, emotional intelligence plays a massive role in how we interact with our peers, and how we react to everything that happens around us. EI is just as important as IQ.