5 Tips for Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children
From the time a baby is born until they establish themselves as adults, most parents are at least a little concerned with how intelligent their child will be. They may get a little worried if their best friend’s kid started talking earlier or if their teen didn’t make the honor roll.
But what about the type of intelligence that doesn’t impact a kid’s ability to solve math equations or memorize state capitols?
We’re talking about emotional intelligence, and though it might not get quite as much “air time” among parents’ concerns, we’re here to convince you that it’s just as important to your child’s future as their academic performance.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is our ability to identify and manage the emotions of ourselves and others. EQ refers to the way that we perceive, process, regulate, and use emotional information.
For example, if your child has high EQ, they might manage a conflict with a friend in the following manner:
Emotional Perception – “I’ve noticed that Hailey has been ignoring me at recess so I think she might be mad at me.”
Emotional Process – “I’m feeling lonely and hurt because Hailey is ignoring me, but I’m not going to let it ruin my day. I have lots of people that care about me and I’m sure I’ll get through this.”
Emotional Regulation – “I think I’ll ask Hailey about why she’s angry at me, but first I’m going to take a walk to calm down and think about what I should say.”
Emotional Utilization – “Now that I’m feeling calm, I’m going to ask Hailey if she’s angry with me and talk to her about how we can work it out.”
How EQ impacts your child’s life
A person’s EQ guides their behaviors and impacts their career, relationships, and overall well-being. While IQ may be a good indicator of your child’s academic potential, it won’t necessarily help them relate to others or manage challenges. Some argue that EQ is more important to success than IQ, as EQ has shown to have stronger influence on stress management, team cohesiveness, and job performance than technical knowledge.
Why is EQ so critical?
Studies have shown that American children have steadily declined in emotional intelligence over the past several decades. A growing number of kids are struggling with anxiety, impulsivity, disobedience, anger, loneliness, and depression. An unfortunate reflection of this trend is also seen in the growing prevalence of school violence since the 1990’s. To address this alarming concern, it’s important that parents and educators understand how to cultivate emotional intelligence in children.
How can I raise an emotionally intelligent child?
Just as there are academic prodigies who seemed to master calculus from within the womb, there are kids who naturally have a higher EQ than others. Whether a child is “emotionally gifted” or not, studies have shown that emotional intelligence can be taught and increased in children.
Here are 5 tips for raising an emotionally intelligent child:
1. Be an emotional "label maker"
Emotionally intelligent people understand and accept their emotions as they experience them. This insight allows them to identify what they are feeling and understand that their emotions are temporary. Big emotions can feel very overwhelming to little people, so help your child understand their feelings by “labeling” them as they come up. This will help them realize that their feelings are a normal part of life that can be worked through.
Example: “You’re feeling angry because it’s your brother’s turn to pick the movie we watch. Everyone feels angry sometimes, and it’s ok to feel that way.”
2. Become an "empathy" model
While you may not be a fitness or swimsuit model, parenting gives you a chance to model your best body part – your heart! Modeling empathy, especially when you don’t agree with your child, is an effective way to show them how to acknowledge the perspectives of others even when they don’t see eye to eye. Empathizing does not mean you have to let your parental boundaries cave in, it simply means you validate their feelings while sticking to your rules.
Example: “I understand that it’s hard for you to stop playing and come inside, but it’s time for dinner.”
3. Encourage expression
When your child starts the dreaded “whine-talk” or temper tantrum, it can be tempting to plug your ears and send them to their room. Unfortunately, this tells your child that expressing negative emotions is unacceptable, causing them to repress their feelings rather than learning how to managing them. When your child gets upset, encourage them to use calm words to explain how they are feeling. Try to stop viewing negative emotions as harmful – instead, view them as a teaching opportunity to show your child how to express emotions in a calm, healthy way.
Example: “It looks like you’re feeling sad because your sister was leaving you out of the game. It’s ok to be sad, but it’s never ok to hit. Use calm words to tell your sister how you are feeling.”
4. Increase their interactions
Children of previous generations spent a lot more time playing with other children – a behavior that naturally cultivates EQ. Today’s kids tend to spend a lot of time indoors, limiting their emotional interactions. Limit screen time and allow your child to have plenty of unstructured social time with peers. Take the time to actively talk and listen to them without distractions. Even if your child is yelling at you to go away, a child’s rage and sadness often can’t dissipate until they feel heard and understood. Put your phone away, let the laundry wait, and tell your child you want to listen.
Example: “I know you said you’re angry and that you want to be alone, but I just want you to know that I’m here and I want to listen.
5. Empower problem solving
Your child’s homework will almost always revolve around solving academic problems – things like figuring out which train will reach its destination faster or determining how to make an egg survive being thrown off a building. Emotional conundrums might not be in their weekly homework packet, but they deserve just as much attention. When your child is upset or disappointed, encourage them by offering to help them brainstorm ideas to overcome their difficult emotions.
Example: “It looks like you’re feeling frustrated because your friend hurt your feelings. When you’re feeling calm, let’s think of things you can say to help her understand how you feel.”
Variations can help
Emotional intelligence is a critical aspect in your child’s development, social relationships, mental health, and life-long success. If you are concerned about your child’s EQ development or just want to learn more ways to support their emotional growth, Variations Psychology can help.
Cynthia Johnson, LMFT, is a specialist in Parenting and Child Therapy at Variations Psychology. Cynthia is experienced in helping parents build strong emotional connections with their children and provides parents with practical tips to support their child’s mental and emotional growth.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. Dr. Shinn specializes in helping parents understand the educational and emotional needs of their children, consults with parents to evaluate EQ in their children, and teaches parents ways to increase their child’s emotional intelligence and mental well-being.
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Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.
Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams).
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