Helping Your Child Increase Their Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence—What is it?

Emotional intelligence is a term created by the two researchers Peter Salavoy and John Mayer. It is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions. Additionally, it includes the ability to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others.

Why is it important?

With the skills of recognizing one’s own emotions and being understanding of the emotions of others, we are better equipped to work with others. With a higher emotional intelligence, we are able to more accurately perceive and understand social situations, manage our personal relationships, and communicate our feelings with others.

The skills associated with emotional intelligence helps both children and adults cope with change, manage emotions and behaviors, and have a higher satisfaction in life.  

How can we increase emotional intelligence?

Mirroring - How we act and handle our own emotions in front of our children shows them how to handle problems and emotions that arise in their own lives.  For example, if an adult expresses their anger by storming out of the house and never talking through the problem, then the child sees that when they experience anger avoiding the emotion is the appropriate response.

A more appropriate way to mirror this emotion would be to first recognize the emotion. Explain to the child that you are feeling frustrated and make sure that you use language to show that you own the feeling. As you own your feelings your child will begin to see that they have control over their feelings, too.  

For example, you would say “I feel frustrated because I wanted to have a day off next week” instead of saying “ I hate my boss. They made me so mad and they didn’t give me the day off that I asked for.”

After mirroring ownership of emotions, show your child the appropriate way to handle the negative feeling. If you need time alone, explain to your child that you need some alone time to think through your feelings before you talk through the problem. Later, when you are able to discuss the situation explain to your child what you were feeling and how you coped with the situation, without stating that the emotion was a bad thing.

Help your child recognize the emotions they experience

As your child grows and develops throughout life, they will often experience new emotions and feelings. By helping identify and name the emotion, it reduces some of the confusion that can be felt and normalizes the emotional experience.

If you see your child becoming tearful over a situation, recognize and empathize with what they are experiencing. “ I can see that you are really upset” This helps them put a name to the emotion and have an understanding that it is normal to experience such emotions.

Accept and acknowledge your child’s emotions

Disapproving of your child’s emotions may only cause them to repress their emotions further. Remember to accept and acknowledge your child’s emotions. One example of this can be seen when a child is crying. If the child is crying recognize that they are feeling upset or sad. Do not tell them “It’s okay, stop crying”.  When we tell the child to stop crying, we are telling them that they are wrong for experiencing the emotion they feel.

In order to accept and acknowledge your child’s emotions, you can try some of the following to let your child know you are there for them without shutting their emotional experience down.

Reassure them:

  • I am here
  • I hear what you are saying
  • I see that this is really hard for you right now

Don’t ignore the emotion

  • Tell them that what they are feeling is okay to feel
  • Ask them to tell you more about the feeling they are experiencing
  • Talk about the situation that the emotions are surrounding “ I see that you really wanted to go to the park today and you are upset that I have to go to work instead”

Things to try and avoid:

  • Avoiding the feeling- “I know you are sad, BUT let’s go play a game to make you happy”
  • Shaming the feeling- “You do not need to be crying over this” “Do you need me to give you a better reason to cry? “
  • Fixing the feeling/situation- “I see that you are mad that we didn’t go to the park, I didn’t want to upset you maybe we will find some time to go today”