Inside: 9 Ways to Raise Emotionally Intelligent children so they have the capacity to show kindness and compassion towards others.
The other day, my son was over the top, out of control, irrationally angry at his sister.
And he kicked her, hard. Which surprised me. And upset me. And frustrated me.
He knows better. He’s “too old” to be physical with his anger. He knows our family rule about kindness.
I was fuming and shocked but took deep breaths and focused on my daughter.
As I consoled my daughter and wiped her tears, my son came in as she was snuggling on my lap, and said what he should have said 4 minutes before: “I’m so sorry I kicked you. But I was really frustrated because you weren’t listening to me and I asked you so many times and so I got really, really mad. I need you to listen to me. I’m sorry I hurt you. Are you okay?”
Woah. That surprised me and honestly, impressed me.
And we intentionally raise our kids to be kind…to speak and act with kindness. And that obviously does not include kicking.
But we’ve also intentionally been building up our kids’ emotional intelligence so they have the words.
This gives them the tools they need to label their own emotions and then respond with age-appropriate reactions instead of bottling up their emotions until they explode.
So we also teach our kids they can be mad without being mean…without retaliating.
And none of this is easy. Most adults don’t have the skills to label their own emotions and react in a measured way.
But one simple way we can help them be kind more often, and deal with big emotions with a measured reaction is to raise emotionally intelligent children.
Why We Should Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children:
Most parents hope to raise children who can manage their emotions and relate to others. Emotional intelligence allows us to identify, label and manage our feelings and the feelings of others. And this can help us make healthy decisions.
As Meghan Owenz of Parent.co puts it: “Emotional intelligence encompasses awareness, understanding, and the ability to express and manage one’s emotions.”
Why is that crucial to raising kind kids?
When our kids are able to label their feelings, and tell us they’re mad or frustrated or lonely, they’re less likely to act out “irrationally”or react physically by hitting, pushing, or biting.
When our kids can deal with their big emotions in healthy, productive ways, they feel less out of control and more secure in their surroundings.
And when our kids are able to label their feelings, they’re also more likely to know how other people may be feeling. They are more likely to be able to imagine how someone else is feeling.
Which then allows them to be more empathetic and more compassionate.
Alexandra Eidens from Big Life Journal has 9 great ways to raise emotionally intelligent children. Thank you, Alexandra, for sharing these tips with us:
9 ways to raise emotionally intelligent children:
1. Allow children to express themselves
Young children cannot differentiate between their emotions and their “selves.” Instead of denying your children’s feelings, it would be best to accept it. Doing so sends the message that what they’re feeling is valid.
Disapproving or discouraging children’s fear or anger or sadness won’t stop them from having those feelings but may cause repression. Unfortunately, repressed emotions don’t fade that easily. That’s because they aren’t under conscious control.
When that happens, kids tend to express repressed emotions in other ways such as having nightmares, nervous tics, aggressive behaviors, or wetting the bed.
If they sense you disapprove, they’ll also learn their negative emotions are shameful and only pleasant ones are acceptable.
So it is best to teach your kids emotions are part of being human, and that they can do something about it.
2. Help children label their emotions
Children need to be able to name their emotions.
This should start when your children are still babies, although it’s not too late to begin now. When opportunities arise, label their feelings and their meanings:
You’re feeling sad your toy is broken.
You’re angry your sister wouldn’t share her cookie.
You’re frustrated you can’t get the button in the hole.
Identify their emotions and guide children to explore what they’re feeling.
Many kids will say they “hate” someone. This “masked emotion” could mean they are angry, sad, jealous, afraid, or any combination of emotions.
Being able to find the nuances in emotions helps our children become more self-aware of how they’re really feeling.
3. Listen to their feelings
It is vital to listen to our kids and let them express their feelings.
They need to feel safe to share their feelings and that we want to hear what they have to say.
As parents, we need to resist the urge to help them feel better right away or to solve their problems. Our job is to first listen to them with patience.
You can say, “Tell me how this makes you feel,” or “Do you want help to solve your problem?,” or “What do you think you can do about the problem?,” or “How can I help?”
4. Validate their emotions
When our kids have big emotions, we need to validate them. We need to let them know we see them, we see their big emotions, and we understand.
Is your kid throwing tantrums because they’re unable to solve a puzzle? Instead of telling them that there’s no need to feel upset, we can instead acknowledge their reaction: “It’s frustrating when you can’t finish a puzzle, isn’t it?”
If they are angry because you’re not paying attention to them, you can say, “I know it’s hard for you when I’m feeding the baby. You wish you could have all my attention, don’t you?”
We need to do this for a few reasons.
By validating their feelings and telling them they’re appropriate, we’re modeling empathy.
We’re also encouraging them to continue sharing their feelings with you.
And when we validate their emotions, we validate them as people.
5. Teach them to stay kind even when they’re mad
When children are upset because someone was mean to them or hurt them, or did something “unfair,” most children’s gut reactions are to react and retaliate.
After we label our kids’ emotions with them “You’re mad,” “You’re frustrated they won’t play with you,” “You’re mad because it’s unfair that he got to go to a playdate and you didn’t,” we can then remind them they can be mad without being mean back.
They can stand up for themselves, they can tell the other person to stop, and they don’t need to be walked all over.
But they don’t get to hurt back or say hurtful things back.
If we’re intentionally raising our kids to be kind, we have to help them be kind even when it feels hard to be kind. Even when they’re angry or frustrated or sad.
And we need to model this behavior when our kids are unkind.
6. Read great books about emotions
Books are a great way to learn about anything and emotions are no different. Reading aloud with our kids offers powerful learning opportunities, especially for identifying and understanding others’ emotions.
Here are some strategies:
1. Read aloud slowly.
2. Include conversation in your read-aloud.
3. Make predictions, ponder a character’s emotional response, and discuss conflicts and resolutions.
4. Share a time when you felt similarly.
5. Offer alternative endings.
You can turn reading almost any fiction book into social-emotional learning experiences.
Here are a few of our favorite books about emotions:
7. Help them develop coping skills
Once children label their feelings, they can learn to deal with them. Encourage children to draw or paint intense feelings, write or talk about them, or kick or hit a ball outside. Allow children to experience their feelings, but also to then calm themselves.
Remaining calm is an effective coping mechanism to deal with emotions in healthy ways.
Belly breathing is an effective skill to practice whenever they feel scared or angry. Tell your kids to slowly breathe into their bellies and watch their stomachs’ rise like balloons. Then as they breathe out, tell them to let the air out of their balloons.
Have them do this for at least five slow breaths. This calms the nervous system and turns off their fight (angry) or flight (anxious) responses.
Put these items into a container they can retrieve when they feel upset.
8. Teach problem-solving skills
Emotional intelligence helps us solve problems. When children understand that they have big emotions and so do other people, they can start to see how to solve problems with win-win solutions. Big decisions can become less black and white and they can see there may be more than one solution to the problem.
It also helps them decide between right and wrong when trying to make a decision.
We could give them this direction: “Take six deep breaths. Then, think of two ways to solve this problem. Choose one option and go with it.”
9. Set a good example
Model emotional intelligence to your children daily. Children watch parents and adopt healthy and unhealthy coping skills based on what they observe.
“Share emotions that you have had throughout the day with your child,” suggests Harvey Deutschendorf. “If you became angry because someone cut you off in traffic, share how you handled it in a positive manner. Also, share how good it felt when your boss commanded you.”
Remember, you are your child’s first and most important teacher.
You model habits that children will subconsciously adopt.
By helping children develop strategies that support emotional intelligence, you can set them up for lifelong success.