Fostering children’s emotional intelligence means paying attention to their emotions and assuming that they understand and benefit when we talk to them about feelings and emotions. Strengthening your kid’s emotional intelligence matters because his inability to manage his emotions can create a domino effect in other aspects of his life. Emotional intelligence is relevant for kids, and there are many simple ways to start fostering your kid’s emotional awareness from today.
Here are 50 simple ways to start doing it.
- Be attentive to your kid’s physical state
Did you know that nutrition and fatigue have an impact on your child’s behavior? A tired child is more likely to react to his emotions in an inappropriate manner, and certain food stuffs can increase your child’s anxiety and hyperactivity. Make sure that your kid is getting enough rest and cut back on artificial food dyes, sugar and high calorie foods.
- Talk about emotions
To raise an emotionally intelligent kid, you have to talk about emotions. But talking about emotions does not mean turning talk on emotions into a lecture. It simply means taking advantage of the fact that emotions are everywhere to foster your child’s emotional intelligence. For example, commenting on TV characters when watching a show together “Wow, he really looks angry” is a simple way to get the conversation around emotions going.
- Talk about your own emotions
Hiding your emotions is not a sign of strength, and it takes away a wonderful opportunity to build your child’s emotional intelligence. By talking about your emotions, you teach your child that emotions are a normal part of life. When you tell your kid that you are nervous before an interview, you teach her that everyone experiences big emotions.
- Cultivate your child’s empathy
Recent studies have shown that children can develop empathetic reactions relatively early. Empathy is not about validating others’ emotions; it is about accepting that different people can have different perspectives and understanding their feelings or behavior from their point of view.
There are many simple ways to raise a kid who cares. For example, modeling empathy can help your child learn about empathy-related behavior.
- Shift your language to support the development of your child’s EQ
Shifting your language means being aware that how you respond to your child’s behavior ultimately impacts his EQ. For example, responding to your child’s tantrums by saying something like “I know it’s upsetting. Do you want to talk about it?” is a more effective response than “What’s wrong now?” if you want to help him develop emotional regulation skills.
- Learn how to deal with your own big emotions
One of the most effective ways of strengthening your child’s emotional intelligence skills is to talk about your own emotions. Let your child know when you’re happy, sad, angry or frustrated.
Better still, show your child how you deal with big emotions – listen to music, take a walk, watch a movie, etc.
- Own your own emotions
Your child doesn’t make you yell. Yelling is how you choose to react to her behavior. You are the one who chooses anger as a solution to the situation. Teaching your child that everyone is responsible for how they react to a situation is an important phase in the emotional intelligence process. Instead of telling your child “you made me angry”, tell her “I was angry because…”
- Avoid emotion-coaching in the midst of a tantrum
Attempting to boosting your child’s emotional regulation skills while she’s having a meltdown won’t work. If your child is having a moment, wait for that moment to pass. When she’s calm, talk about what happened. Remember that it’s best to teach kids about emotional regulation when you’re both calm and relaxed.
- Help your child open up about emotions by drawing on the feelings of those around him
Young kids do not always know how to put their feelings into words. That makes sense if you consider that most children are not familiar with many emotions. Asking your kid to imagine how someone else, for example a friend, would feel is an easy way to put him on the path to emotion regulation.
- Put a name on your child’s emotions
Helping your child put a name on her emotions – “I know you’re upset because you’ve lost your doll”, “I would also be sad if I didn’t have any friends to play with” – can help raise her emotional awareness.
When you tell her that you understand her disappointment for not getting the toy she wants, you not only help her put a name on her emotions, you also enable her to understand those emotions better.
- Teach your child to identify his triggers
To successfully nurture your child’s emotional intelligence, you need to teach him to identify his emotional triggers: what makes him angry/anxious? What types of activities frustrate him? What doesn’t he like?
An easy way to do so is to help her track her behavior over a given period of time and then identify emerging patterns.
- Learn to identify your child’s triggers
In addition to teaching your child to identify triggers, learning to identifying those triggers yourself goes a long way in strengthening your child’s emotional intelligence. Emotion-driven behaviors such as tantrums and meltdowns, or even aggressive behavior, rarely “appear suddenly”. They are often the way your child chooses to react to a stimulus in her environment. Being attentive to your child’s triggers makes it easier to address emotion-provoking situations before they get out of hand. In other words, it is easier to prevent emotion-driven behavior when you are aware of how your child is likely to behave in specific situations.
- Talk about how strong emotions feel in the body
Strong emotions have an impact on the body. That is why we speak of the physical sensation of butterflies in the stomach in relation to anxiety. But different kids react to strong emotions such as anger or anxiety in different ways. Teaching your child to identify how strong emotions manifest in his body is an important element of the emotional intelligence process because it helps him relate emotions to his body. Relating certain sensations to certain emotions makes it easier to deal with emotion-provoking situations before they escalate.
- Focus on appropriate behavior instead of misbehavior
It is common to focus on your child’s inappropriate behavior and to attempt to reduce that behavior. But did you know that the more you focus on that behavior, the more you reinforce it? There is now proof that the most effective way to reduce your child’s inappropriate emotion driven behavior is to focus on his positive behavior. This positive behavior approach based on behavioral psychology suggests that positive discipline strategies can help your child adopt the appropriate behavior. The Positive Behavior Kit has numerous practical and age-appropriate tips to help you identify a positive discipline strategy to modify your child’s behavior
- Understand that emotions drive behavior
What we often refer to as “misbehavior” is often normal behavior children use to express a specific need. It is now commonly accepted that children’s behavior is simply an expression of big emotions they haven’t learned to deal with yet. That’s why an anxious or angry child is likely to throw a tantrum and “misbehave”, which is actually an attempt to deal with his emotions. Understanding that your child’s behavior is driven by emotions can make it easier to deal with that behavior.
- Demonstrate empathy
Empathy is a difficult skill to develop in both kids and adults. It refers to the ability to feel or imagine someone else’s pain and to offer help. Showing empathy does not mean you agree with your child’s behavior. It simply means being able to understand her feelings or behavior from her point of view.
- Start with yourself
An emotionally distant parent is likely to raise an emotionally distant kid. You cannot effectively enhance your kid’s EQ if you have not learned to address and react to your own emotions: Can you clearly identify your most frequent emotions? What sets them off? Are there recurring patterns in your emotion-driven behavior? How do you manage your emotional triggers ?
- Talk about your coping mechanisms
Whether you like it or not, you child’s ability to deal with big emotions partly depends on how you deal with those emotions yourself. In other words, your kid learns to react to her emotions by watching how you react to yours. For instance, telling your kid that you’re nervous before an important meeting and that you are going to listen to some music to calm down teaches her that difficult emotions can be managed.
- Use routines to help provide a safe framework for your kid
Rituals are important because they provide children with important roots. They can help ease daily tensions and make your child’s transitions easier. They also provide the safety your child needs to develop his emotional skills.
- Use age-appropriate tools to foster your child’s emotional intelligence
Remember that age-appropriate resources designed to give parents tools to communicate with their children about emotions can help you foster your child’s emotional intelligence skills.
- Validate your child’s feelings
Emotional invalidation is very common. It is not unusual to tell kids that their emotions are irrational, unreasonable, or exaggerated. But invalidating emotions does not make them go away. Instead, it can lead to psychological issues in adolescence and beyond. Telling your son to “stop crying like a baby” is emotionally invalidating because it teaches him that it is wrong to react to emotions.
Validating your kids’ emotions means giving them opportunities to express their emotions and deal with them in a socially-appropriate manner. To validate your child’s emotions and strengthen his emotional intelligence, you could say something like: “I understand you’re upset because you can’t play anymore. What else can you do to feel better?” This response not only shows your kid that his feelings are valid, it also helps him learn that difficult emotions can be managed.
- Encourage your child to come up with appropriate coping mechanisms
Ultimately, an emotionally intelligent kid is one who is capable of adopting appropriate mechanisms to deal with an emotion-provoking situation by himself. This will not happen overnight, but it will happen with time. Help your child brainstorm appropriate responses to difficult situations. “I know you’re angry because… You know I’d also be angry if …but how else can you react if that happens again.”
- Take advantage of visual coping mechanisms
Visual coping mechanisms are great tools to help your child learn to adopt effective coping mechanisms. You can brainstorm ideas together, download and print the images representing the ideas selected, then put the images where your child can reach them easily. You can then guide your child to the visual cards whenever necessary. Visual anxiety cards are a great way to help children learn to deal with strong emotions by themselves.
- Do not shield your kid from difficult situations
Shielding your kid from difficult emotions doesn’t help her strengthen her emotional intelligence. Fostering your kid’s emotional intelligence does not mean protecting her from difficult emotions.
In one study, 41 sibling pairs and their mothers were observed when the second child was three years old. They were then observed again when the second child was six-and-a-half years old. The objective of the study was to determine whether talking to kids about feelings and emotions had an impact on their ability to identify the feelings and emotions of others in later years.
Although the study does not make it possible to conclude that early family discourse alone causes kids to be more emotionally intelligent, one of the interesting results it highlighted is that kids are more aware of emotions when they are in dispute with others. In other words, social conflict provides an opportunity for parents to talk about emotions. In families where little dispute was observed, kids learned less about emotion regulation.
- Build up your child’s positive emotions
Positive psychology has been proving it for years – positive emotions foster creativity, increase focus and attention, make it easier to process information, boost resilience, foster optimism, improve cognitive abilities and broaden critical thinking skills.
Barbara Fredrickson, the positive psychology researcher, suggests that positive emotions can build your kid’s physical, intellectual, psychological, and social resources. They also act as a buffer during difficult times. There are many simple ways to make your child feel good about himself, beginning with play which has an impact on your child’s social, intellectual, and psychological outcomes.
- Be your child’s emotions coach
A key objective of emotion coaching is to teach your child how to react to her emotions. Brainstorm together acceptable ways of reacting to emotions. Offer opinions but as far as possible, let her choose the solutions. Help her write down the different ways she can react to the warning signs. You can offer guidance by asking questions such as: “Do you think this will work?” “How will you feel? “Will it hurt anyone’s feelings?”
- Let your child know what is expected of him
Your child’s behavior may be explained by the absence of a framework. If she is unsure of what is expected of her or receives conflicting information or feedback, she is likely to portray unacceptable behavior. Communicating effectively about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior goes a long way in managing your child’s behavior and teaching her to learn to regulate her emotions.
- Avoid labelling your child’s behavior
We all tend to act in line with what we believe is expected of us. You are more likely to be clumsy around people who think of you as clumsy. You have less to say around people who think you’re boring. “Aggressive” kids are unlikely to stop acting aggressive when all their lives they have been consistently described as aggressive.
The impact of labeling on children’s behavior was first studied scientifically by Rosenthal and Jacobson. At the beginning of the study, all the students in an elementary school took an IQ test. The researchers then randomly selected approximately 20 percent of these students and presented them as “intellectual bloomers.” At the end of the study, the students took another IQ test which showed that the students who had been presented as “intellectual bloomers” had significantly higher scores during the second phase of the IQ test. While their results have remained inconclusive and difficult to replicate, they helped show that labels have an impact on how people are perceived. In the study, the students presented as “intellectual bloomers” received closer attention from their teachers who were more attentive to their needs.
These studies gave rise to what is now commonly referred to as the Pygmalion or Rosenthal effect. This phenomenon suggests that positive expectations lead to positive outcomes, and negative expectations lead to negative ones (Golem effect).
The Pygmalion effect shows that the words you choose to describe your child affect how she behaves. These words shape her personality and also have an impact on the kind of relationship you develop with her, well beyond the childhood years.
- Teach your child to get away from triggers
Getting away from one’s emotional triggers is one of the most common emotional regulation strategies. Teaching your child to avoid his triggers is thus an important strategy that can help him deal with strong emotions such as anger and anxiety. But getting away from triggers is not just about teaching your child to physically distance himself from difficult situations. It is also about teaching him to avoid “emotional bait”.
- Help your child identify a “safe spot”
Having a “safe spot” is an easy way to help your child learn to manage her emotions in an appropriate manner. A safe spot is simply a space in which your child feels safe enough to express her emotions. It can be a spot in her room with all her favorite things and soothing activities such as books or drawings.
- Teach your kid positive affirmations the right way
A child who feels unworthy will not find his worth by repeating “I am worthy, I am worthy, I am worthy”, over and over again, and that makes perfect sense. Despite the doubts on the real effectiveness of positive self-affirmations, several studies have succeeded in linking these affirmations with increased creativity, self-compassion, confidence, problem-solving skills, wellbeing and even enhanced pro-social behaviors.
The reason why most attempts at using positive self-affirmations with kids fail is because those affirmations are not specific, realistic and explanatory. Young kids’ minds are yet to fully grasp deep concepts and what they need is to be taught what behaviors and attitudes are in line with those concepts.
Your kid needs to know that his actions will have a direct impact on his behavior. Instead of focusing on positive affirmations, focus on the actions that lead to specific behavior.
- Turn criticism into an opportunity to strengthen your child’s emotional intelligence
Not everyone will agree with how you choose to foster your child’s EQ. For instance, you will probably have to deal with others’ remarks to your child such as “big boys don’t cry”, “stop crying, it’s nothing”, “that didn’t hurt”, “stop being a cry baby” “be a good girl”, “stop sulking”, and so on. The biggest problem is that most of these remarks are often made by close friends and family, and it is not always easy to know how to react in the heat of the moment. Turn criticism into an opportunity to talk to your child about his emotions. For instance, you could say something like: “You remember when … said you’re just a cry baby? I don’t think that’s what he really meant. I think what he was trying to say was…”.
- Make your child’s teacher your ally
An emotionally intelligent child learns better than one who is struggling with emotion regulation. Many teachers can help foster your child’s emotional intelligence. Talk to your kid’s teacher and find out how she behaves in school. If she behaves better in school, ask her teacher for tips you can try out at home. If you’ve found something that helps calm your child at home, let her teacher know and ask if she would be willing to give it a try in school.
- Use games
Games are an easy way to get your kid talking about his emotions and to learn about others’ emotions. They are a simple way to teach your child to learn to control his emotions. The Emotions game is a simple age-appropriate game that can help you navigate conversations about emotions.
- Make your kid work out everyday
Exercises have been proven to increase children’s wellbeing. Encouraging your child to do some form of exercise everyday helps her eliminate tension and thus deal more effectively with difficult situations and big emotions.
- Use creative arts
Creative arts are a very effective coping mechanism that can help your child learn to manage difficult emotions. Creative activities such as drawing and coloring mandalas have been proven to have a calming effect on kids.
- Learn to tell the difference between emotion-driven behavior and outright misbehavior
There is a big difference between the strong emotions your child is unable to express and serious misbehavior (manipulation, direct disobedience, physical aggression, etc.). It is important to identify the difference. Emotion coaching is not appropriate for addressing serious misbehavior. That said, science-based positive discipline approaches can help you deal effectively with your child’s misbehavior.
- Get help
Emotion-driven behavior in kids is more common than you think. However, there is cause for concern if your child displays severely disruptive behavior and if his behavior does not seem to change despite all your attempts to help him react to his emotions more appropriately. Please seek professional help if you are feeling overwhelmed with his behavior. A professional will be able to identify an appropriate behavioral program and to determine whether or not your child is suffering from a behavioral disorder
- Foster your child’s emotional safety
The concept of emotional safety owes much to the research of Stephen Porges and Don Catherall who have shown that we all have an innate need for safety that is wired into our beings and that when we feel emotionally unsafe, our nervous system goes into a state of defense. There are easy ways to foster your child’s emotional safety. The thing to remember is that emotionally safe relationships are built on trust and on the acceptance of the other. When you show your child that you accept and love them, you are doing them a world of good.
- Treat all feelings as valid
Seen from an adult’s perspective, much of children’s behavior can appear exaggerated. But the thing is, none of your child’s worries are too little to ignore. While your child may appear to overreact in certain situations, it helps to remember that situations that appear “normal” to adults can be terrifying for kids. Even saying something simple like “I know that you’re scared” can help develop your child’s emotional intelligence.
- Accept your child’s appropriate coping mechanisms
Different people react differently to strong feelings such as anger, anxiety and frustration. It is important to let your child choose his own anger or anxiety coping mechanisms, except when those mechanisms are harmful. Remember that fostering your child’s emotional intelligence is about teaching him to react to strong emotions such as anger and anxiety by himself.
- Learn to use your pause button
Reacting in the heat of the moment often leads to inappropriate reactions and that’s true for both your child and yourself. Instead of reacting immediately, reflect on your response, then react.
Learning to use your pause button can prevent you from reacting in anger or from taking situations personally. It can help you become more intentional in your response.
- Help your child adopt his own pause button
Helping your child adopt a pause button means giving him the tools to distance himself emotionally from an emotion-provoking situation. Doing this can help your child react to strong emotions such as anger more appropriately. Teaching your kid simple visual breathing exercises such as “imagine you’re smelling flower. Inhale for a count of four, then hold it in for a count of four” can give him important tools to help him distance himself from emotion-provoking situations.
- Find more opportunities to connect
Connecting with your child everyday helps strengthen feelings of emotional safety. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend ALL your time with him. The available research says quality trumps quantity every time! Below is a 30-day challenge to help you spend more quality time with your kid every day. The good news is that you can do all the activities proposed in less than 15 minutes!
- Know when to keep silent
Your child cannot process information in the midst of a tantrum so there’s no use trying to “make him see reason”. Instead of focusing on talking, keep close to your child and wait for the storm to pass.
46. Think ahead
Thinking ahead is an important skill that can enable you to build your child’s emotion regulation skills. Thinking ahead means being able to prepare your kid for emotion-provoking situations. For example, talking to your kid about what to expect in a new situation can help her deal better with her anxiety.
- Prepare an “emotional regulation toolbox” for difficult days
Dealing with our kids’ emotion-driven behavior is hard and sometimes it helps to have several tools we can use immediately in challenging situations. The 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique is a mindfulness exercise that can help reduce your kid’s anxiety and other strong emotions such as anger. By helping him focus on the present, this exercise enables him to use his senses to find calm.
The 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique
5) Sight: Ask your kid to look around him and name 5 things he can see out loud. “I see my fingers, I see a blue chair…”
4) Sound: Ask your kid to listen attentively to the noises around him and say 4 things he can hear out loud. “I hear birds chirping…”)
3) Touch: Ask your kid to pay attention to her body. Ask her to say what she feels out loud – “I feel the smooth surface of the table”, “I feel warm…”
2) Smell: Ask your kid to pay attention to what he can smell and say it out loud. “I smell a cake baking…”
1) Taste: Ask your kid to pay attention to the taste in her mouth and say what she can taste out loud. “I taste the apple I had for lunch…”
This strategy works best before your child’s emotions get out of hand which is why you need to act as soon as you see the warning signs.
- Use open-ended questions to get the conversation about emotions going
It can be difficult to get your child to talk about emotions. An easy trick is to adopt a short daily routine during which you use open-ended questions. For example, when he comes from school, you can ask questions such as: “tell me one thing that made you smile”, “one thing that made you sad”, and so on.
- Read books about emotions together
Good children’s books often deal with emotions. Reading books together and talking about the emotions of the different characters is an easy way to raise emotionally intelligent children.
- Acknowledge your child’s emotions
According to Carl Rogers, rage can only dissolve when “it is really heard and understood, without reservation.” Remember that a tantrum or aggressive behavior are often the way your child communicates anger, anxiety, frustration and other strong emotions. Listening empathetically enables your child to feel heard and goes a long way in building emotional intelligence in your child.
Developing your kid’s emotional intelligence is neither an easy fit to accomplish, nor does it occur overnight. Be patient and remember that there are many simple and age-appropriate ways to foster his emotional regulation skills.
Keep focused on the long-term objectives. Remember that sometimes you’ll succeed, sometimes you won’t, and that’s okay. If one strategy fails, dust yourself off and try again. Your child will do better with time.