To Build Your Child's Emotional Intelligence, Try These Phrases

by Parent Co December 06, 2020

young mom with kid in bed

As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher—responsible for their introduction not only to STEAM subjects, but also for helping them develop emotional intelligence. In fact, research suggests that emotional intelligence is a better predictor of success in life than IQ. Just like academic subjects, parents can help their children develop this through “emotion coaching,” even from the first months of life. 

According to a 2018 study from The American Academy of Pediatrics, parents have a significant opportunity to promote social-emotional development in their children by playing together. Taking it one step further, Dr. John Gottman details in his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child how parents’ responses to their children’s emotions can be divided into four categories:

  1. Dismissive parents who glaze over, distract from or attempt to quash their children’s emotions.
  2. Disapproving parents who punish what they perceive to be negative emotions.
  3. Laissez-faire parents who accept their children’s emotions, but don’t offer solutions or limits.
  4. Emotion coaching parents who value all emotions by allowing children to feel and express them, but also offer guidance like emotion labeling and problem-solving.

Not surprisingly, the final category is the sweet spot for nurturing children’s emotional development, which research also shows lends to better physical health, performance in school and personal satisfaction in life. Gottman continues to explain that the five steps to effectively “emotion coaching” include being aware of your child’s emotions, recognizing the opportunity for learning, listening to and validating those feelings, helping label the emotions, and encouraging problem solving skills. 

The good news? This isn’t all or nothing. Gottman’s research found that even most successful “emotion coaching parents” followed all five steps about 20-25% of the time. As you begin to implement emotion coaching techniques with your child, here are some modifications to common phrases that help with labeling, validation and encouragement.

1. Value perseverance over perfection

Instead of saying: “Good job” when your child finishes something

Try: “I love how you’re working on this” while they are in progress

2. Make space for negative feelings

Instead of saying: “It’s okay, brush it off” when your child is hurt, sad or angry

Try: “I know it hurts really bad to stub your toe and can sometimes make you feel upset” to communicate understanding

3. Model healthy expressions of your feelings

Instead of: Dismissing your own negative emotions

Try: Narrating to your child as you work through your feelings, like “I’m frustrated right now, but I’m going to take a few deep breaths”

4. Let them lead with emotion labeling

Instead of saying: “You are very angry right now”

Try: “It seems like you’re feeling angry. Do you think you’re angry?”

5. Foster curiosity to boost self-confidence

Instead of: Focusing on close-ended tasks 

Try: Creating and environment in your home that celebrates taking unique, child-led approaches to certain activities

As minor as these modifications may seem, children glean healthy self-talk from what parents and other adults in their lives first demonstrate. So while today you may be helping your child work through a frustrating learning opportunity around sharing a toy, soon enough they will be able to confidently handle adversity on their own.

Parent Co


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