This is part 1 of a 3 part series about Emotional Intelligence in children. Part 1 focuses on laying the framework for your young child to develop their knowledge of feelings and facial expressions in an age-appropriate way. Part 2 is about how to teach our children to express their emotions in a healthy way.
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What is Emotional Intelligence?
Commonly referred to as EQ, Emotional Intelligence is calculated by one’s ability to identify and control one’s emotions, as well as determine how someone else is feeling and relate to others. People with with a high EQ can use emotion to communicate effectively and have successful relationships.
Why is EQ important?
The research has spoken: IQ is not the predictor for our children’s future success. What is? Emotional intelligence.
People with a high IQ are smart and capable, but people with a high EQ are relatable and likable. They are sensitive, and instinctively know what others’ want and need. They’re easy to engage with and remain calm under stress. Sound like someone who might do well in life?
Simply put, the higher one’s EQ, the healthier relationships they will have with others. Poor EQ is linked to being short-tempered, having poor social skills, and engaging in unethical behaviors.
Teaching Emotional Intelligence
Unlike IQ, EQ can absolutely be taught. In fact some schools have begun programs specifically aimed at raising social and emotional intelligence in their students. In a study of 379 of such programs, the following outcomes were found: fewer discipline problems and suspensions, reduction in bullying and antisocial behaviors, better school attendance, and higher academic achievement (https://prodimages.6seconds.org/pdf/case_for_EQ_school.pdf).
So now that we know what EQ is and why it matters, how can parents teach this set of skills to our children at home?
Part one is all about laying the foundation for being able to discuss feelings with your kids.
Teach them to name their feelings
This is child therapy 101. Kids can’t talk about their feelings if they don’t know what their feelings are called and what they look like.
During my time as a child therapist, I came across kid after kid who thought there were only two feelings: happy and sad. Every now and then I’d a get a kid who would include mad.
Don’t let that be your kid!
Give them the vocabulary for more complex emotions, including:
How to build their feelings vocabulary
Teach these words the same way you build all language skills in your children: by infusing them into your daily conversation with your child.
You can do this by:
- Reflect your child’s emotions back to them. “You look frustrated right now. I would feel frustrated too if my block tower kept falling over.”
- Name your own feelings out loud to your child. “I’m feeling disappointed because it’s raining and they cancelled the baseball game.”
- Talk about others’ emotions. “Your cousin seemed upset when it was time to leave the party. How do you feel when it’s time to leave a party?”
Identify feelings based on faces
Going hand in hand with knowing the names of feelings is recognizing what those feelings look like. A really easy game you can play with your child is to name an emotion and have them hold up a Hand Mirror and try to make the face that matches. Inevitably it will turn into giggles because it is pretty funny to see someone trying to look angry or sad when they really aren’t.
There are also some great books with pictures of faces that can help your child learn to interpret how others’ are feeling. Lots of Feelings is a good one for young kids because instead of cartoon drawings it has actual photographs of children’s faces.
You can also draw faces for your child and have them try to guess what feeling you intended to draw. If they guess incorrectly, try to guide them there by giving more detail about the feeling. For example, if you’re drawing “worried” and the child guesses “scared”, this is an opportunity to teach them the nuances between the two. “Yes, this person is feeling a little scared, but it’s more like they are nervous about something that may or may not happen and they can’t stop thinking about it for a long time.”
Another great staple to have on hand is a “How are you feeling today?” chart. Even if your child can’t come up with the correct word for their feeling, they can choose a match from the faces shown and just point to it.
If your kid loves emojis, those can work just as well too.
Naming emotions in the moment
It’s one thing to be able to recognize a feeling during a game or while reading a book, but it’s a lot more difficult to be able to recognize one’s emotions in the midst of it. Once you hear your child do this, you will know that the effort has paid off and your child is fully understanding the vocabulary. I still remember the first time that my son shouted mid-tantrum: “I AM REALLY FEELING VERY FRUSTRATED RIGHT NOW!” I did a little happy dance inside because I knew we had built the foundation for emotional intelligence and were on our way to expressing emotions in a healthier way than a tantrum.
Now that you’ve laid the framework for your child’s emotional intelligence by teaching them to name and recognize feelings, it is time to teach them healthy ways to express their feelings, found in Part 2. In Part 3 (coming soon!), you will help your child learn how to apply their knowledge to others and develop empathy.