If you’re a parent, I’m 100% sure that one of your dreams for your child is to be healthy and happy. To grow up and become a kind and positive force in society.
Well, the best way to do that is to develop their emotional intelligence even at a young age.
EI, or EQ for Emotional Quotient, is such a powerful tool in raising kids. Because more than IQ, it can help them manage their emotions and deal with life’s chaos in a healthy way.
As a teacher and a parent myself, I’m here to share with you the parenting habits you can do to nurture emotional intelligence in your child. Let’s dive in!
1) Modeling emotional intelligence
I’ll begin with one of the hardest parenting habits in this list, and that’s modeling.
Let’s face it, we aren’t exactly on top of our own emotions all the time. We have knee-jerk reactions to things that go wrong, and by knee-jerk, I mean that we aren’t even aware of it.
But now that we’re parents, we’ve got to amp up our self-policing. This time, there are little people watching – and copying – our every move.
And that includes the way we deal with life’s challenges. So, where you used to let out a string of cuss words or lose your cool, you now have to be aware of what comes out of your mouth and the energy you’re putting forth.
Remember, if you tend to lash out, your kids will think it’s okay to lash out. Fortunately, the reverse is true – if you stay calm and composed, your kids will have that response as their template for dealing with unpleasant situations, too.
So, what’s the first step in modeling?
2) Helping them identify emotions
I admit, when my boys were toddlers, it really was a challenging time. It isn’t called “the terrible twos” for nothing.
I can’t blame them, though. When you’re in that stage of life when you’re feeling all sorts of new emotions and you don’t know how to express them, you’d be yelling and screaming, too (and you probably did, back when you were two!).
The trick to handling those rough patches is to help them identify what they’re feeling. You can model this by using the right language to describe yourself.
For example, when I was feeling upset, I’d say, “Mommy is feeling a bit down today.” Or when I was happy, “I feel so happy!”
Or you could simply give them the words to express how they feel. Here are some examples:
- “You look frustrated with that puzzle. It’s a tough one, isn’t it?”
- “I can see you’re stomping your feet and your face is red. Are you feeling angry?”
- “Did it make you feel upset or hurt when your friend didn’t share her food with you?”
- “You’re hugging your teddy bear very tightly. Are you feeling scared or anxious?”
- “Your voice is very loud right now. It seems like you’re feeling excited or overjoyed.”
With these labels, you’re giving them a working vocabulary not just to express their feelings, but also to recognize these emotions in others. It’s the foundation for building empathy.
3) Encouraging expression
I once heard a student – a 7-year-old boy – say, “My dad says crying is for sissies.” Oh, that broke my heart, I tell you.
You know why? Because it was an awful message to send a child. Kids need to know that it’s okay to express how they feel. That’s one of the basics of being emotionally intelligent.
Otherwise, they’d grow up swallowing their hurt and pain…and be deeply unhappy.
Every parent should aim to provide a safe space for their kids to freely voice their feelings. Let them know it’s okay to feel whatever it is they’re feeling – every emotion is valid.
How exactly do you open this safe space to them? With this next habit…
4) Active listening
Remember the old traditional saying, “Children should be seen, not heard”? It may have been acceptable in the past, but not in these modern times.
It makes them feel valued, and that leads to a healthy sense of self-esteem.
Not only that, they learn how to communicate effectively, and this will serve them well as they build social skills and interact with their peers.
So the next time your child asks you a silly question, don’t brush it off. Personally, I love listening to what my kids and my students have to say. After all, kids do say the darndest things – it’s always a fun ride!
5) Creating a no-judgment zone
Pair your active listening skills with a no-judgment attitude, and you’re golden. Really.
Because you’re creating that safe space I mentioned earlier. For kids to feel safe expressing their emotions, they need to know you’re not labeling them as “good” or “bad.”
Emotional intelligence is all about knowing that every emotion is valid and has a purpose.
Take my 7-year-old student, for example. He’s been brought up to see crying as weak and bad. So, he doesn’t understand that it’s natural and serves the purpose of emotional release.
Sadly, statements like that immediately train kids to shut down certain emotions. In the end, they aren’t able to access and become familiar with their own emotional world, which is a key aspect of emotional intelligence.
6) Showing empathy
Another side effect of being non-judgmental when it comes to emotions is that it builds empathy.
Empathy is all about acknowledging other people’s pain so that we can respond appropriately and support them.
Again, modeling is the best way to teach your child about empathy. Here are some practical ways to do that:
- When your child is upset or frustrated, acknowledge their feelings to show that you understand and validate their emotions.
- Train them to see the other person’s perspective. For instance, if a conflict arises between your child and their friend, ask them questions that prompt them to put themselves in their friend’s shoes. (e.g. “How do you think your friend felt when that happened?”)
- Show concern for others in your daily life. For example, comment on how a friend might be feeling or show care for a pet. Your child will learn that others’ feelings and well-being matter just as much as their own.
- Volunteer together. It’s a wonderful way to show your child other ways people live in the world. They’ll grow up with a sense of appreciation for people from all walks of life.
- And the simplest one of all – read books to them! These are a great way to learn about different kinds of emotions and perspectives.
7) Teaching problem-solving skills
Do you want a child who falls apart at the slightest sign of trouble? Or a child who’ll be able to handle whatever life throws at them?
Obviously, it’s the latter, right?
Then give them opportunities to solve problems on their own.
If the tower they’re building keeps falling over, ask them what they can do to keep it upright.
If they can’t find a toy, ask them to think of places where it could possibly be and what they can do to find it.
If they want a party for their birthday, ask them to help you plan it.
Little moments like these pay back big returns – they learn how to manage their emotions so they can focus on figuring things out rationally.
That way, you’re already equipping them for resilience and setting them up for life.
8) Teaching healthy coping skills
Aside from problem-solving skills, children also need to learn healthy coping skills.
Here’s an idea from psychologist John Gottman that really resonated with me: All emotions are acceptable but not all behaviors are.
What does that mean?
Simply this – yes, you might be angry, and that’s valid. But to lash out or hurt others because of it? Definitely not.
It all comes down to self-control and emotional regulation.
Teach your child that there are many healthy options to deal with overwhelming feelings. Here are some that really work well, in my experience:
- Mindfulness exercises (yoga, quiet sitting, deep breathing exercises)
- Calm-down kits (this can include anything that soothes your child, such as stress balls, stuffed toys, bubble kits, relaxing scents, glitter bottles, books, journals)
The idea is to bring a sense of calm so that they can be more aware of their emotional state. They learn to pause and regulate instead of reacting impulsively.
9) Providing choices
I think every parent would agree with me in my hope that our kids grow up to be well-adjusted adults who make wise choices in life.
So, even when my kids were very young, I let them make choices whenever possible. With little things like what to wear or which book to read, they learned that they have agency over their lives.
That gives them a feeling of control, and hopefully, a sense of responsibility when they grow up.
Now, a caveat: make sure that you’ve pre-vetted all possible choices. For example, if you’re letting them choose a YouTube video to watch, those choices should all be ones that you’re okay with.
Parenting is no walk in the park, that’s for sure. On top of making sure our kids are safe, healthy, and happy, we also want them to have the emotional intelligence and resilience to deal with life’s uncertainties.
These habits might seem like a tall order on top of everything we do, but trust me, it’s well worth the investment. With mindfulness and consistency, we can raise kids who aren’t just book-smart, but life-smart, too!
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