The Importance of Emotional Intelligence and How to Cultivate it in Your Kid

by Sanya Pelini August 26, 2017

Two girls drawing with wax crayons, one girl crying

Emotions color our world. They can go from bright and colorful to very dull. Kids’ emotional well-being is closely related to their physical well-being. It is not uncommon for kids to develop headaches, tummy aches, or even throw up when they have to do something that affects them strongly.

Research suggests that “emotions coordinate our behavioral and physiological states.” Emotions manifest in different bodies in different ways. In other words, while not everyone might get butterflies when anxious, emotions play on the nervous system, leading to different physical manifestations.

According to the neuroscientist Candace Pert, “your body is your subconscious mind.” Dr. Pert argues that different emotions send different messages to the body and may lead to a nervous system imbalance.

Common physical manifestations include headaches, tingling hands and feet, stress and anxiety, depression, muscular pain, cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and a sudden urge to urinate or defecate.

Teaching kids to manage their emotions is, therefore, an important step that can ensure their well-being in childhood and beyond. Here are five tips to strengthen your child’s emotional intelligence:

1 | Help kids reflect on their emotions

Young kids don’t always know which emotions they’re feeling and rarely do they know how to respond to them.

Kids won’t learn to differentiate emotions unless we teach them how. They may know they are feeling “something,” but they do not necessarily know what that “something” is. This largely explains why understanding kids’ emotions can help reduce what we normally perceive as misbehavior. Emotions are everywhere, which means that it’s easy to find opportunities to talk to kids about them.

Treating kids’ emotions as valid and regularly speaking about feelings – how did you feel, how do you think he feels, why do you think she’s so sad? – goes a long way in teaching them to manage their emotions.

2 | Give them tools to manage negative emotions

Try as we might, we cannot protect our kids from negative emotions. We cannot guarantee them a “smooth path,” nor should we. Kids need to know that emotions are normal and can be managed with the right tools.

Teaching kids to manage emotions independently gives them the resources they need when faced with difficult situations. One tool involves helping kids identify appropriate reactions to strong emotions. This will calm them down and reduce anger, stress, and anxiety.

3 | Provide opportunities to express difficult emotions

When we foster a democratic parenting approach, our kids know we are available. This will make it easier for them to come to us when they need help.

When kids know that their opinions count and their emotions will not be invalidated, they are more likely to express their thoughts. That said, kids don’t always open up about what’s bothering them, especially when they’re still in the throes of emotion.

Providing opportunities for kids to quiet down first, in a self-quieting space, for example, can make it easier for them to talk about their emotions once they are calm.

4 | Know when it’s time to let go

Strengthening kids’ emotional intelligence also means teaching them to make their own decisions and then stepping away so they can handle things by themselves. Much evidence suggests that granting children autonomy early teaches important problem-solving skills and also fosters self-esteem.

Helping your children explore different reactions or solutions to any given situation supports good decision-making. For instance, making it a habit to always evaluate “three other options” may make it easier for them to reflect on other possible reactions, even in your absence.

5 | Teach them when to walk away

There’s a story about how “smart fish” catch onto a fisherman’s game and stop taking the bait. Eventually, the fisherman is forced to move away because he can no longer catch any fish at that particular spot.

This story teaches kids that sometimes it’s better to walk away from the issues that cause stress and anxiety (bait). While some issues should be addressed, there are many that can be avoided. Knowing what to avoid can help kids reduce negative emotions.

Strengthening kids’ emotional intelligence can help them live fuller, better, and more fulfilled lives.

Sanya Pelini


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