We all want the best for our children. We want them to do well in school, make wonderful friends, grow into responsible adults and have happy lives. If only we could script their lives to work out exactly as we hope. Unfortunately, we can’t. So the only thing we can do is help them learn to navigate the ups and downs they will face. One of the best ways to do this is to help them develop their Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence (EI), a term created by researchers Peter Salavoy and Joyn Mayer, is the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions, as well as the ability to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others. People with a high IQ do not necessarily have a high EI, and it can be argued that having a high EI is more important when determining one’s success in life. Luckily, we can increase our EI, and we can start our children off on the right foot by developing their EI skills, too. Here are some ways you can help your child develop a high Emotional Intelligence.
1. Help them learn to label emotions and understand that they can feel multiple ones simultaneously.
Starting from when they were babies, we teach our children the basic emotions of happy, sad, mad and scared. At school, they might be asked to point to a face on a poster to express how they feel. But there are so many other emotions that fall in between. You can feel both happy and nervous, sad and mad, or a plethora of other mixed feelings all at once. This makes it harder to control different emotions, but it is important to recognize those feelings in order to address them.
2. Recognize the overall mood in different locations, and try to determine what may be the cause of that overall mood.
Every place you visit – from schools to grocery stores to home – tend to have a “vibe” about them, a general feeling that settles over the place and affects everyone’s mood. The old adage of “if Mom isn’t happy, no one is happy,” expresses it perfectly. If you notice you are someplace that is particularly joyous, melancholy, or fearful, point it out and talk about it with your child. Perhaps it is joyous because you are in a park with many happy children, or melancholy because you are in a hospital where there are many sick people, or angry because you are at home with an unhappy sibling who isn’t letting anyone relax. Brainstorm with your child about different ways that he or she can choose a mood when in a less-than-happy place.
3. Help your child be aware of stressful feelings and talk about how to deal with them.
When we are stressed, it is even harder for us to control our emotions. If we are able to recognize stress as it is happening and do things to relax, we will be in a better position to handle whatever is causing stress. Start by helping your child recognize the warning signs, such as tense muscles, headaches, butterflies in the belly, or feeling tired. Then, find a few different things to help calm them down, such as journaling, breathing exercises, listening to music, talking to someone, or taking a quick walk. Offer suggestions on what you do to calm down, relax and de-stress.
4. Teach your child to communicate feelings clearly and appropriately.
The best way to do this is to model the behavior that you want them to exhibit. When you have reached your limit and just want to scream and yell, use that as an opportunity to simply say, “I am very angry and frustrated right now, and I am close to yelling at you. So I am going to go to my room and calm down before we talk so I can express myself correctly.”
5. After arguments or issues, allow emotions to settle and then role-play how things could have been done differently.
When your child is angry, upset, emotional, or frustrated, it is not the time to attempt a rational discussion. Allow your child to get centered and calm again (by suggesting a technique you have come up with together), and then revisit what happened. Think about how it could have been handled differently. Talk about what the outcomes of different scenarios may have been to illustrate the effects of their actions and words.
6. Read and discuss emotionally charged books and movies.
Losing yourself in a good book or movie is amazing. Sometimes you begin to feel the emotions that the characters are experiencing, and books and movies like Wonder or Marley and Me open up great discussions. You can ask your child how she or he thinks the characters felt during the story, and if there was ever a time they felt that way, too. Continue the discussion by asking how they would manage those big emotions.
7. Take time to discuss school issues with your child.
One of the best ways to deal with emotions is to talk to someone about them. This is true for both adults and children. If someone feels like you aren’t really interested in what they are saying, they will stop talking. Put down your phone, get rid of distractions, and give your child your undivided attention when they discuss what may be happening at school. Instead of offering solutions right away, have your child think of possibilities, and then role-play how different choices may play out.
Vicki Little is a preschool teacher with two children. A Colorado native, she spends her time writing, sitting in the bleachers for her daughter’s gymnastics, and engaging in spirited debates with her son. In her free time…well, she is still waiting for some of that.
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