We all know the inevitable, bittersweet truth of being a parent: if you love them, you must let them go.
While you have a good 18 years or so at home before that time eventually comes, sending your not-so-mini-ones out into the world is a whole lot less scary if you know they can rise to any emotional challenge that comes their way.
Teaching and building emotional intelligence in children is one of the most effective ways to make sure they truly bloom in life (even more than having a high IQ, according to experts). This invaluable education is best taught as early as possible so you can set expectations from the start.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence or emotional quotient (EQ for short) is all about how we understand, manage, and express emotions. It helps us control our anger, explain how we feel, and empathize with other people. According to Dr. Michael Rock, a professor who specializes in the study of EQ, up to 90% of the problems we face on any given day are ‘relationship issues’ and 90% of our success in life is based on how well we relate to people. (He calls it the ‘90% Factor.’) Given that, it’s clear that investing in the emotional intelligence of your children is one of the best gifts you can give them. So, where do you start?
Here are five top tips to raise an emotionally intelligent child, as suggested by experts...
- Name and accept emotions
Helping your children label and accept their emotions, especially negative ones, is a great opportunity for teaching EQ. In an article for The Gottman Institute, Marriage and Family Therapist April Eldemire says that ‘once children can appropriately recognize and label their emotions, they’re more apt to regulating themselves without feeling overwhelmed. Try using phrases like, “I can sense you’re getting upset” or, “It sounds like you’re really hurt.”
- Model smart ways to express feelings
Studies show that emotionally intelligent parents are more likely to have emotionally intelligent children. Children watch their parents closely and, for better or worse, pick up on our coping skills from as young as 10 months of age. The best way to teach your child how to show emotion in an appropriate way is by modeling these skills yourself. Harvey Deutschendorf, author of The Other Kind of Smart, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success, suggests sharing emotions that you have had throughout the day with your child. “For example,” he says in an article for One Wise Life, "if you became angry because someone cut you off in traffic, share how you handled it in a positive manner.”
- Teach healthy coping strategies
Once kids understand their emotions, they need to learn how to deal with them in healthy, productive ways. This includes managing anger, cheering themselves up, and facing their fears. Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, suggests teaching specific skills. “Your child may benefit from learning to take a few deep breaths when they're angry to calm their body down,” she says in an article for Verywell Family. You might also help your child create a ‘kit’ that helps them regulate their feelings, which could include a coloring book, a favorite joke book, soothing music, and lotions that smell good.
- Develop problem-solving skills
The next step in building EQ in your children involves learning how to solve problems. Eldemire suggests enlisting your child’s help in seeking solutions to their struggles.
“Kids yearn for autonomy,” she says, “and this is a great way to teach them that they are capable of self-regulating themselves. Remind them that all emotions are acceptable but all behaviors are not. Here’s a great phrase: “I understand you’re upset, but hitting is not okay. How can you express your feelings without hitting next time?”
- Recognize progress and positive behavior
Emotional intelligence can’t be taught overnight. Recognizing and celebrating progress is an essential part of the process. “Acknowledge situations where your child could have let his emotions run amuck but remained in control, then praise him for it,” suggests Deutschendorf. “Say, ‘I like the way that you didn’t get frustrated when your little brother kept interfering in your game. I noticed you calmly found something fun for him to do. That was a great way to deal with him.”
Of course, this emotional education won’t always run smoothly. Knowing and accepting that is a test of EQ in itself. So, what should you do when your child is not modeling the behaviors you’ve been exploring with them? Morin suggests 'time-outs,' as long as the child is also having plenty of positive ‘time-ins’ with their parents. She also recommends loss of privileges as an effective discipline strategy. “Make it clear when the privileges can be earned back,” Morin says. “Usually, 24 hours is long enough to teach your child to learn from their mistakes.”
Miranda Luby is a freelance lifestyle journalist and columnist with bylines for the BBC, Kidspot, Natural Health, and Nourish magazine. You can find her at mirandaluby.com