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How to develop emotional intelligence in children

Teaching children to distinguish between emotions, skills to deal with negativity, problem solving, etc. can help them develop a healthy EQ.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is defined as the ability to appropriately express and manage emotions, while respecting the feelings of others. It is a set of skills that children can begin to learn at any age.

For decades, studies have found that emotional intelligence benefits children throughout life. Children with high EQ perform better on standardized tests, scores tend to be higher.

Emotional intelligence helps children manage conflict and develop deeper friendships. Adults with high EQ report better relationships in their personal and professional lives, too.

EQ helps children to be more successful in life.  Photo: Freepik

EQ helps children to be more successful in life. Image: Freepik

Childhood EQ is associated with adult success. A 19-year study published in the journal American Public Health showed that a child’s social and emotional skills in kindergarten can predict their future success. Children who can share, collaborate, and follow directions at age 5 are more likely to graduate from college and have a good job at 25.

A child who can self-regulate when angry is likely to do well under difficult circumstances. A child who can express thoughts in a positive way will maintain healthier relationships than a child who tends to yell or say mean things when angry.

In addition, people with high EQ are less likely to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses. Therefore, parents can help children develop emotional intelligence in the following ways.

Recognizing children’s emotions

Children need to know how to categorize their feelings. Parents can help their children by naming their emotions. For example, if your child is upset about losing a game, you can ask: “Doesn’t that sound like you’re feeling angry?”; If your child looks sad because he can’t go out, you can ask, “Are you disappointed that we don’t visit grandparents today?”.

Adjectives expressing negativity including angry, annoyed, embarrassed, sad… can all form a dictionary of emotions. In addition, there are phrases for positive emotions such as joy, excitement, nervousness, hope…

Show empathy

When children are upset, especially when they seem agitated, criticism or rejection can backfire. A better approach is to capture their feelings and show empathy, even if you don’t understand why they are so upset.

When children see that parents understand their feelings, children will feel less forced to express their inner feelings to adults through behaviors. Therefore, instead of screaming or crying to show their parents that they are angry, children will feel better when their parents empathize with them.

Parents often share and confide in their children;  teach them how to express their feelings...help them have good soft skills.  Photo: Freepik

Parents often share and confide in their children; teach them how to express their feelings…help them have good soft skills. Image: Freepik

Model appropriate expression of emotions

Children need to know how to express their feelings in a socially appropriate way, i.e. instead of shouting and throwing things, sharing their thoughts with others or drawing a sad picture can be more helpful.

The best way to teach children how to express emotions is for parents to model these skills. Use emotional words in everyday conversations with your child, such as: “I feel happy when I see you like this food”; “I’m not happy when you throw toys like that”…

Studies show that parents with high EQ are more likely to have emotionally intelligent children. Therefore, adults should create a habit of sharing their thoughts and feelings with their family so that they can become an effective example for their children.

Teach skills to deal with emotions

Once children understand their feelings, they need to learn the skills to handle them in a healthy way. Staying calm, having fun or facing fear can be very complicated for young children. Therefore, parents should teach their children specific skills. For example, when a child is angry, he should take a deep breath in through his nose so that his belly is full and out slowly through his mouth (repeated a few times) to help calm the body.

Parents can also buy some coloring books, jokes, scented candles, or listen to soothing music… to attract the senses and soothe the children’s emotions. Put them in a special box your child loves. When your child is upset, remind them to use this toolkit to manage their emotions.

Develop problem solving skills

Part of building emotional intelligence involves problem solving. After identifying and dealing with emotions, it’s time for your child to find ways to overcome the problem on their own.

Maybe the kids are angry because their older sister keeps interrupting them to play video games. Parents should help their children identify 3-5 possible ways to resolve conflicts. Solutions don’t have to include good ideas, as the primary goal is to encourage children to brainstorm to come up with ideas. Once children identify possible solutions, parents can help them assess the pros and cons of each solution. Then encourage your child to choose the best option.

Parents should act as a coach instead of a problem solver for their child. Provide guidance as needed, but show your child that they are capable of solving problems on their own peacefully and effectively.

Apply EQ to build life skills

Even if a child seems emotionally intelligent, there is always room for improvement. As they grow up, they may face obstacles that will challenge their skills. So develop emotional intelligence alongside life skills.

When children are young, parents should talk to their children every day. Share about the feelings of the characters in the book or movie. Discuss better solutions to resolved problems, or how to treat people with respect. As your child gets older, talk about real-life situations including problems they face in everyday life and stories going on around them.

Analyzing children’s mistakes is also an opportunity to help them develop better. When children act out of anger or hurt someone’s feelings, parents should take the time to talk about how they can do better in the future. With the continued support and guidance of parents, children can develop emotional intelligence and mental strength, which are important factors for success in life.

Chau Vu (Follow Verywell Family)

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