Developing Emotional Intelligence In Kids
The term “emotional intelligence” is so misused nowadays, most of us don’t know what it means anymore. And if we don’t know, we can’t teach. So, let’s start by recovering its true meaning:
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to regulate feelings and emotions, differentiate between them, and use this data to lead one’s thinking and actions.
“Much of what destroys our lives,” says modern-day philosopher Alain de Botton, “can be attributed to emotions that our conscious selves haven’t found a way to understand or to address in time.”
Keenly in tune with their feeling bodies, the emotionally intelligent recognize when a swell of emotion is about to break through. Rather than reacting on impulse, they pause, properly label the emotion, take time to identify its cause, and then—only then—choose how to react.
Properly labeling an emotion is key to choosing how to deal with it. The richer our vocabulary of emotions, the better equipped we are. Neuroscientist Lisa Feldman calls this “emotional granularity.”
“People who exhibit high emotional granularity are emotion experts,” Feldman says. “Their brains can automatically construct emotional experiences with fine differences, like astonished, amazed, startled, dumbfounded, and shocked. For a person who exhibits more moderate emotional granularity, all of these words might belong to the same concept, ‘surprised.’ And for someone who exhibits low emotional granularity, these words might all correspond to ‘feeling worked up.’”
EQ Leads To Social Intelligence
A high EQ is fundamental to positive social interaction. A person who does not understand his emotions will struggle to understand those around him. What’s more, a person who has limited, face-to-face interactions limits the ability to read the subtle, emotional cues broadcast by facial expressions.
You may think a smile is a poor indicator for true feelings. After all, anyone can fake one. But our facial expressions are expressed subliminally by muscles over which we have no conscious control. Our real emotions and signal expressions cannot be faked. Learning to read these subtle cues is fundamental to social interaction and the development of empathy: the cornerstone of emotional intelligence.
Now that our social interactions are increasingly mediated by social media and text messages, our capacity to read subtle cues broadcast by body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions is decreasing. An emoticon, no matter how clever or cute, just doesn’t cut it, which might explain the growing level of societal discord and strife. More than ever, parents must consciously surround young children with rich social environments to develop socio-emotional intelligence.
Helping Your Children Deal With Anger
Like all emotions, anger is a great servant, but a terrible master. Before we can properly teach children to master anger instead of being mastered by it, we must first bring them from the boiling state to a simmer. Parents can validate feelings by acknowledging the emotion (i.e., “You must be really frustrated”). Taking time to step away from the conflict or trigger can help children self-calm, such as going for a walk, listening to music, or journaling.
“Emotional regulation can be particularly difficult for toddlers as they experience flooding responses to these emotions,” says Michael H. Popkin, founder and president of Active Parenting Publishers. “When toddlers need assistance regulating their emotions, parents can teach them some relaxation and breathing techniques.” These may include:
• Butterfly Breath: Press your palms together. Pretend to be a butterfly. Open your ‘wings’ as you inhale and close your ‘wings’ as you exhale. Land in the initial position with your palms pressed together.
• Windy Woods: Stand. Make believe you are a tree. Take a deep breath. As you inhale, lift your arms up over your head. As you slowly exhale, lower your arms, waving them like wind blowing through the tree.
• Balloon Breath: Make believe you are a balloon releasing air. Place your hands on your belly. As you inhale slowly, feel as your belly expands like a balloon. Exhale slowly, making the sound of the balloon losing air as you feel your belly grow flat.
Once you’ve helped your children cool down, you can begin the work of “emotion coaching” by first helping them properly label what they are feeling. Follow this up with prodding questions to give them the opportunity to both examine and break down the problematic situation independently. This helps them begin to understand why they are reacting in a certain manner before receiving your input.
Ready to learn more? Sign up for an Active Parenting course through Olive Crest or learn how you can host a course at your site. You can also reach us by phone at (714) 543-5437 ext. 9065.
Parenting Education is a program of Olive Crest. Funded by: OC Health Care Agency (HCA), Mental Health and Recovery Services, Office of Suicide Prevention, Mental Health Services Act/Prop. 63.