Raising emotionally intelligent children: 5 ways to strengthen EQ in kids
Do you know the biggest predictor of kids doing well in school, having healthy relationships, becoming leaders in their community and workplace, and even making more money?
We’ll give you a hint. It’s not IQ....
It’s EQ! (Otherwise known as Emotional Intelligence.)
Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to understand, express, and manage his or her emotions. It’s tied to motivation, impulse control, self-regulation, as well as empathy and compassion for others.
All of us are born with a certain amount of emotional intelligence; but unlike IQ, which doesn’t change much over a person’s lifetime, EQ can be learned. This is great news for us as parents, because it means we’re able to strengthen our kids’ emotional intelligence (as well as our own!) with a few simple, yet powerful, tools.
Power to the Parents
In today’s education system, so much focus is placed on academic achievement, while emotional intelligence is largely ignored. This is a huge disservice to children, as research from Dr. Goleman suggests that a person’s EQ is twice as strong a predictor of success as IQ.
While some schools are starting to incorporate emotional intelligence into their curriculums, many experts in the field agree that it’s still not enough. Consequently, we as parents need to take responsibility to teach and reinforce practices that build our children’s EQ.
Looking for ways to strengthen your child’s EQ? Keep reading for five tools you can use to raise emotionally intelligent kids.
5 Tools to Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children
Quick summary + Valuable tools
Talk about emotions: “Kids can learn how to tolerate challenging or uncomfortable feelings and recognize some emotions as cues to solve a problem.” Free download - Wheel of Emotions
Let kids make choices and mistakes: “Help your child learn problem-solving skills and responsible decision making.”
Provide opportunities for self-reflection: When kids “reflect on an event, choice, or behavior, they can identify what they did well and what they’d like to differently next time.” Our product recommendation - Vertellis KIDS
Practice empathy: Empathy helps kids have “strong relationships with other children, parents, and educators, a decreased likelihood of bullying, increased sense of happiness, and an ability to be tolerant of others.”
- Play: Through play, “kids learn important skills for life, such as: learning to say sorry, how to compromise, how to trust others, and how to form and maintain relationships.”
Want to dive deeper into these five tools? Keep reading to learn more!
1. Talk about emotions
One of the most important components of emotional intelligence is emotional awareness. After all, to understand, manage, and express our emotions in healthy ways, we first need to be aware of them.
With children, this begins by developing a vocabulary to describe their emotions. When your child is experiencing what many call a “big feeling”, ask them to describe what they’re feeling and, if possible, label the emotion. If they can’t put words to it, ask them to draw it. (Remember to do this with positive emotions, too!)
You can also use pictures to help children identify their emotions. I’m personally a big fan of “the wheel of emotions” which allows kids to point to a picture of an emotion they identify with. (Check out this awesome “wheel of emotions” printable!)
When kids can identify their emotions, they start to build emotional regulation. With gentle coaching from parents and other adults, kids can learn how to tolerate challenging or uncomfortable feelings and recognize some emotions as cues to solve a problem. They’ll also learn to experience emotions without needing to act on them (for instance - being angry at Tommy for stealing the toy does not justify hitting him).
As parents, we have to remind ourselves that our child’s emotions are not an inconvenience or something to be stifled. Disapproving of our kids' emotional experiences won’t stop them from having those feelings—they’ll just come out in other ways (e.g. nightmares, violence, acting out in school). This is why social stereotypes like “boys don’t cry” are so dangerous—if boys and men are shamed for expressing a natural human emotion, it will be expressed in other (not necessarily positive) ways.
Accepting your child’s emotions (which does not mean accepting certain behaviors) helps your child learn that having an emotional life is not shameful or something to be scared of. It’s a normal, human experience that, with practice, can be managed.
2. Let kids make choices and mistakes
Another key part of emotional intelligence is feeling in control of your well-being and understanding how your actions affect others.
With kids, this means giving them the opportunity to make choices and mistakes when the stakes aren’t super high.
Why is this important? When kids make decisions (which sometimes result in “mistakes”), they can:
- Learn to see the impact of their actions
- Learn to tolerate challenging emotions such as frustration and anger
- Build resilience
- Develop a growth mindset
- Discover that trying something and “failing” is okay
Does this mean you need to let your child do whatever they want while you sit back and watch them fail blindly? Absolutely not. Give them the choice when the consequences aren’t dire and allow them to make mistakes when there is a lesson that can be learned.
This also gives you an opportunity to help your child learn problem-solving skills and responsible decision-making. Talk with your child about the consequences of their behavior and help them discover appropriate ways to solve a problem or deal with a challenging situation.
3. Provide opportunities for self-reflection
Self-reflection has become a popular practice for adults...but did you know it’s just as powerful for kids?
Self-reflection helps children cultivate self-awareness. When they reflect on an event, choice, or behavior, they can identify what they did well and what they’d like to differently next time. This helps kids know their strengths, while also being aware of places they can grow.
By having a regular self-reflection practice, kids can keep track of what they’re doing (in school, in the home, amongst friends), and figure out what’s working and what’s not. They can also make and track goals, discover things they truly enjoy, learn what they do when they’re stressed or upset, and form healthy habits.
If you’re looking for a way to introduce self-reflection to your child, check out Vertellis KIDS. This guided journal for children is filled with fun and meaningful prompts, allowing kids to reflect on what’s going on in their lives while strengthening the parent-child bond.
4. Practice Empathy
When kids are given opportunities to consider what another person is feeling or put themselves in another person’s shoes, they start to learn about empathy.
Empathy teaches relationship skills and is a key player in friendships, team building, work dynamics, and healthy romantic partnerships. For kids, this means having strong relationships with other children, parents, and educators, a decreased likelihood of bullying, increased sense of happiness, and an ability to be tolerant of others.
A couple of ways to explore and practice empathy include:
Talking to your kids about how other people may be feeling and why. You can do this anywhere, and use both people your child knows and complete strangers. Ask them questions such as: “How do you think Tommy feels that you took his toy?” or “How would you feel if kids laughed at you in the lunchroom?”
You can also explore empathy with books. Some of my favorite empathy-inducing stories from childhood include: Charlotte’s Web, The Little Prince, and Where the Red Fern Grows. Read the stories with your child and ask questions such as: “What do you think that character is feeling?” or “What could they have done better?”
Like every other animal (humans are animals after all!) kids learn key emotional and social skills through unstructured play. Dr. Amanda Gummer, an expert in play and child development, recommends giving kids plenty of opportunities to play with a variety of playmates and toys. Through these interactions, kids learn important skills for life, such as: learning to say sorry, how to compromise, how to trust others, and how to form and maintain relationships.
Keep in mind...we’re talking about IN-PERSON (not digital) play. Having face-to-face interactions is crucial for kids!
BONUS TIP…Be a good model
Children can learn behavior simply by observing others. Consequently, as parents, we need to be aware of our own emotional intelligence. We can discuss our feelings with our kids, manage our own emotional responses (especially when our kids are experiencing a “big feeling”), talk about people we have empathy for, engage in focused play with our kids (put your device on airplane mode!), and have our own self-reflection practice.
Strengthen your own emotional intelligence while being a role model in the process! Win-win!
Start early, but better late than never
If we start building emotional intelligence in kids when they’re young, we’re setting them up for success in regards to having healthy relationships, handling failure, and making good choices when they gain more independence as teens and then adults.
But no matter how old your kids are, talking about emotional intelligence is important. Like we mentioned earlier, our emotional intelligence can grow and evolve throughout our lives, so it’s never too late (or too early!) to start talking about feelings.
How do you explore and strengthen emotional intelligence with your kids?
Leave us a comment and let us know! We’d love to hear from you.