Intelligence, as measured in the traditional sense (IQ or “book smart”) is not the only contributing factor to being successful in life. Emotional intelligence (EI), can be a more accurate predictor of adaptability to situations, which equates to being successful in whatever challenges life throws your way. Not only does being emotionally intelligent help you make good choices during times of stress, it also helps you connect with your own feelings, which in turn, can help you connect with others. Having a high EI can improve your ability to form healthy relationships, increase autonomy and self-efficacy, improve your ability to problem solve, and increase your resiliency to stress.
As parents, equal time should be spent on supporting your child’s emotional intelligence, as is encouraging academic growth and success. The good news is that parenting skills for emotional intelligence can start when the child is very young. The earlier you start, the more time your child will have practicing these valuable skills. That said, it is never too late to start working with your child or adolescent on these skills! Below are three quick and easy tips for raising an emotionally intelligent child (or teen).
- Recognize and label your child’s emotion.
Yes, it is as simple as it sounds! One extremely important, yet extremely simple thing you can do to boost your child’s emotional intelligence is to just recognize and verbalize what emotion your child is feeling. Of course to do this, you’ll want to study up on the huge variety of emotion words that are actually out there. One simple, yet powerful tool is to print out a “feelings chart” for kids. Have your kids circle a few emotions (or pictures of emotional faces) they feel each day. As kids grow, they will benefit from having an increased emotional vocabulary, which will help them connect and better understand what is happening in their bodies and minds. This process of identifying and labeling your child’s inner experience prepares them to begin doing it on their own. All stress, including frustration, anger, and fear, are fueled by our inner, reptilian brain. When we identify and label our feelings, we are able to “plug in” to our outer cortex, which helps us control our emotions and manage impulses; instead of letting our emotions control us.
- Regularly teach two important things about emotions:
- Emotions are temporary
- Emotions have levels
Negative emotions are uncomfortable, but healthy people can tolerate them because they understand that the experience is temporary and there are skills available to decrease the intensity and frequency of the anger, frustration, or hurt they feel. Emotions are like waves, they have a beginning, peak, and most importantly, they have a recession and an end. Emotions are a part of life, and sometimes the best you can do is “ride the wave”, and find comfort in the fact that you’ll feel differently sometime soon.
Teaching your child that emotions have levels is important because this helps them appropriately match their response to their current level of stress, and provides the framework for teaching skills that can decrease the intensity of the emotional experience. One simple way to teach your child or adolescent about this concept is to use a picture of a “feelings thermometer” with a range from 0 to 10. Work with your child to talk through what triggers and related responses occur at each level. Then have your child identify their level of emotion, and ask “what skills can we use to move a few points down the scale?” When kids become confident in their ability to reduce the intensity of uncomfortable emotions, they are more willing to use their skills and are able to decrease the amount of time it takes to recover from emotionally stressful events.
- Collaborate with your child to identifying multiple solutions to problems, chose what to try, and evaluate whether it worked or not. Repeat.
In parenting, it is better to be a collaborative consultant than a dictator or rescuer. If you always rescue or make demands of your child, they will not learn to evaluate options and make healthy choices for themselves. Collaborating with your child about multiple solutions to a problem will help them be more creative in their approach to problem solving. Creativity and mental flexibility is correlated to more successful problem solving. If your child believes that each problem can only be solved one way, they are more likely to experience stress, frustration, and disappointment. Additionally, providing children with choices supports healthy neurological development and improves self-efficacy. Not to mention that collaborating with your child teaches them the value of their opinion and models how to respect the opinions of others.
Another important aspect of emotional intelligence is perseverance. When a solution to a problem does not work, do you try again, or give up and have a tantrum? Parents can support perseverance in their children by taking time to talk through whether a solution to a problem was successful and if not, choosing another route while maintaining a positive outlook with respect to the situation. This type of perseverance is key to teaching children and adolescents that “failure” is not final. Failure is only a stepping-stone to success.