What if instead of simply wanting our kids to be “happy,” we can help them become emotionally healthy? After all, nobody is happy all the time. Cultivating emotional intelligence (EQ) can lead to stronger and more functional relationships among children and their parents and siblings, in addition to many more lifelong benefits. What parent doesn’t want a more peaceful and functional home life? Plus, EQ is a better indicator of success in life than IQ.
Fortunately, it’s never too early to help children cultivate their emotional intelligence. Parents can use a simple and effective approach to raise an emotionally intelligent child and to improve their own EQ, too.
Whether you’re expecting or have grown children, you can increase your EQ by making nuanced distinctions between emotions. This way you can develop and maintain your emotional granularity, an important step in becoming emotionally healthy.
Research shows that the bigger your vocabulary in describing emotional concepts, the more nimble your responses become when faced with difficulties. In her New York Times article, researcher Lisa Feldman Barrett explains that, “Emotional granularity isn’t just about having a rich vocabulary; it’s about experiencing the world, and yourself, more precisely. This can make a difference in your life. In fact, there is growing scientific evidence that precisely tailored emotional experiences are good for you, even if those experiences are negative.”
Let’s use pregnancy as an example. Being with child often comes with unwanted surprises. By describing your feelings, you can gather more data on how to adjust your behavior to these surprises. Try giving your emotions as much texture, weight, and dimension as you can imagine. If you’re experiencing water retention in your feet and ankles. Do you feel annoying discomfort? Or are you feeling surprising despair that your feet won’t fit into your normally comfortable shoes? Add more details to describe your full experience.
The precision in describing your feeling frees you to make the switch from being a passive observer to an active participant in your plight. This might spur you to take an epsom salt foot bath or get a foot massage. In fact, many of your concerns might send you down the path to this kind of self-care. Besides alleviating the problem, you’re rewarded by becoming more emotionally intelligent.
Wherever you are in your parenting journey, use a more precise language to describe your feelings when talking to your friends or partner. Observe different ways and their benefits. This also helps you connect with your partner and others in your support network, an important ingredient in overall wellbeing.
As parents, you can cultivate emotional granularity in your children the same way you help them learn their colors or ABCs. Instead of just using generic words such as sad, mad, or happy, use more nuanced words like melancholy, furious, and delighted.
To encourage emotional granularity in our household, we put a moratorium on the overused word “bored” as a blanket expression to cover more subtle thoughts and feelings. I noticed that my son used the word when a math problem was particularly challenging or when a new situation was too intimidating. This helped him create new emotional concepts while providing material for lively dinner discussions.
Reading fiction is another way parents can improve their emotional intelligence. Research shows that when we read literary fiction, we improve our sense of empathy by cultivating our ability to understand what others think and feel. Novels focus on the relationship of the characters and their rich inner lives and we’re often left to imagine their impetus and motivations. This helps us become more aware of how we relate to one another and improve our social behavior.
While reading with children helps with parent-child bond, discussing the characters and their motivations and feelings has the added benefit of improving empathy and emotional wellbeing.
There are several tools to help emotional intelligence through practicing emotional self-awareness:
We want our children to not only thrive but to live in a healthy society made of emotionally intelligent people who make the right choices for themselves and their environment. To create such a world, we begin with cultivating our own emotional intelligence and practicing with our children.