When you think about how you want your child to turn out, something of an emotionally well-rounded human should come to mind. Understanding the human condition and developing empathy is a natural process, but it is also something that can be taught to children.
Emotional intelligence refers to a child’s way to relate to their own emotions and those of other people. It is about being empathetic and sympathetic at the right times. When a child is emotionally intelligent, they understand that there are appropriate times and places to express certain emotions. They have a good check of controlling their own emotions and have healthy strategies to release emotions.
Children learn best through observation and applying things that have seen in their own actions. This is definitely true for the way their emotions develop and process. When children are young and they cry and a trusted adult comes to comfort them, they are learning that this is an appropriate action when someone is displaying emotions. Some things that you can do as a parent to support the development of emotional intelligence are listed below.
Empathize With Your Child
As the parent, you are modeling the behavior that is going to teach your child. This means that you need to empathize with them. Remember that child have narrow perspectives on the world so something that bothers them and triggers their emotions is going to be something completely different to yours.
However, empathy is all about relating to someone’s problems and acknowledging why it is a problem for them. For example, the biggest problem in your child’s life might be that you just told them to stop playing and come in to eat dinner. This can make your child emotionally upset because of it something out of their control. They want to keep playing and don’t see the importance of eating right now. Being empathetic in this situation means you don’t agree with them and don’t give them their way, but show that you understand why it is a problem. In this scenario, to be empathic would be to use phrases such as “I know you want to keep playing, but right now you need to eat with the rest of the family.” Empathy isn’t about negotiating; it is about showing your child that sometimes they have to do things they don’t necessarily want to.
Allow Your Child to Show Expression
The last things you want to do are block out or encourage ignorance of emotions. In teaching emotional intelligence, you are teaching your child that it is completely ok to have feelings and to express these. You do this by accepting your child’s emotions when they present themselves and give your child strategies to cope with these emotions. It is really important to give your child a name for their emotion as well.
For example, if your child is playing and doesn’t want to share their toy, but then their friend or sibling snatches the toy away, your child will feel angry. You need to let your child feel this emotion and process it. Talk to your child and empathize by saying that you understand they are angry their toy got taken away, but this is why we need to share toys and be kind to each other. You are accepting the emotion of your child, but also giving them a valuable life lesson at the same time.
Listen to Their Feelings
Your child is going to feel so many emotions throughout the course of the day and they really just need to know this is ok. Listening to your child’s emotions involves letting them verbally express them, or express them in other means. Sometimes your child might draw a picture that indicates they are feeling something dark. When you see this, invite an open discussion about their feelings. Ask them what is happening in the picture, why they chose those colors, and what the image means to them.
Improve Their Vocabulary
To process emotions, children need to understand them. To understand them, they need to have words to use around their emotions. Using flashcards is a great way to label emotions. As you go through flash cards with your child, encourage a conversation about each emotion. For instance, ask them what makes them feel happy as they match the word happy to an image. Do the same for difficult emotions such as fear and sadness. Your child needs to know what these emotions are and know that it’s ok to feel them.
As you have these discussions with your child, you can also talk about problem-solving strategies to overcome them. All of this will enhance your child’s emotional intelligence and help them process feelings when they arise.