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How to Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children

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Self-control, empathy and emotion naming are all part of being emotionally intelligent. How can you teach these qualities to your child?


If you’re my friend or my most recent Verizon customer service representative, you’ve probably heard enough of all my emotional intelligence talk. I’ve read a few books on the subject recently and will launch into passionate theories with anyone who will listen. I’ve enjoyed learning about the importance of emotional intelligence, to say the least.

Emotional intelligence is “the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” It’s important to nurture emotional intelligence in our kids because emotionally intelligent kids tend to be happier and perform better in school. And frankly, it makes life better.

Here are some ways we can nurture emotional intelligence in our children.

Teach self-control.

Talk about self-control. Include it in conversation and praise your children when they use it, show examples of other people using self-control and talk about hypothetical situations to prepare them… “Imagine a kid at school (insert terrible situation: destroys your science project on purpose!) How would you feel? What could you say? How would you react?” Self-control seems to be the basis of all emotional intelligence. When a child (and a certain LightWorker’s writer!) can master self-control, they are better able to regulate their emotions and control their responses.

Talk about emotions.

Be annoying about it; develop your child’s emotional vocabulary and teach them to name their emotions. When a child knows how to verbalize their frustration, anger, sadness, embarrassment, anxiety, it helps normalize their feelings and teaches them to ask for help. It’s important to remember that while we may correct our children’s behavior, we shouldn’t punish them for experiencing negative feelings. Once a child matures, they can grow in their ability to name negative emotions and find solutions, or react in a less explosive way.

Become problem solvers.

Instead of answering (the 1,582) questions lobbed your way before breakfast, throw them back first. My oldest asked me the other day, “What would you do if you ran out of gas and your car is in the driveway?” And the whole family erupted with good ideas. Before answering, ask your child, “What do you think?” “What would you do?” “If you felt nervous about it, what could you say to help calm yourself down?” Teach your kids to think through a problem, the associated feelings and work through ideas. It’s a lot of extra parenting, but I find it eliminates the thousands of questions, prompting them to think it through and find a good answer themselves.

Teach empathy.

After emotions have cooled, flip around a negative experience at the playground. Ask your child, “How do you think he (the other kid involved) felt? Why do you think he was angry?” When my sons are in their inevitable sibling fights, I’ll ask them to take turns telling each other their versions of the story. Second, they have to repeat the accounts from the other’s perspective. (It’s confusing, but they get the hang of it.) I then have them work through solutions for the next time. By the time the lengthy conversation is over, everyone’s annoyed with me and they are happy and best friends again!

Before answering, ask your child,, “What do you think?” “What would you do?” “If you felt nervous about it, what could you say to help calm yourself down?” Teach your kids to think through a problem, the associated feelings, and work through ideas.

Highlight emotional intelligence in the literary world.

When your kids read books, watch movies or read the bible, talk about examples you stumble upon and ask your children to identify what a character must be feeling and how they reacted. Ask them, “how would you react? Would you have felt embarrassed too?”

So much of emotional intelligence development can happen in hypothetical situations before problems occur. By talking about it at home, analyzing previous behavior, asking kids to problem solve and using a plethora of emotional vocabulary, you can teach emotional regulating behavior… Beat them to the metaphorical punch! Or perhaps the literal one!