Teaching Emotional Intelligence to your Child
Whatever age your child may be, school can sometimes feel like a competitive environment. With higher expectations, can come more pressure to feel the need to be a certain someone or achieve certain grades in school, leading to increased levels of anxiety and low levels of self-esteem and self-worth. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that there has been a significant increase in anxiety levels amongst children aged 9-17 years with one in twenty children and adolescents having diagnosed anxiety or depression. Anxiety can be felt by children when they are in a stressful environment or situation. From separation anxiety, which can be felt on the first day of school when they have to part from their parents for the first time, to social anxiety when they feel nervous or disattached from their peers.
Everyone experiences anxiety at some stage in their lives, but it’s how aware and able to manage those feelings someone is that can determine how well they deal with these situations - this is called Emotional Intelligence. The earlier you start helping your child learn emotional intelligence, the better they will be at handling stress and anxiety. Unlike intellecutal intelligence which has a partially hereditary element, emotional intelligence needs to be learned, as our survival-mode brains are not wired to handle stress and anxiety well. That’s why we sometimes feel like we want to run to the nearest hole and hide when the going gets tough - that’s your fight-or-flight mode talking.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
Nowadays, there are references to emotional intelligence (EQ) everywhere, but what is it? Psychology Today defines emotional intelligence as the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others.
Research by Psychology Today has shown that emotional intelligence or EQ predicts over 54% of the variation of success in relationships, effectiveness, health and quality of life. Additional data concludes that young people with high EQ earn higher grades, stay in school, and make healthier choices.
Experts state that the best time to start teaching your child emotional intelligence is when they are between the ages of 0 - 3 years old. At this age, their brains are developing rapidly and they are absorbing everything around them like a sponge. They start to explore, ask questions, notice their surroundings and most importantly, they copy their parents’ behaviour. If your child is older, there’s no need to worry, teaching them at any age will make a difference.
The Five Areas of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence can be summarised into five main areas:
- Emotional Awareness: The ability to identify and name emotions and being aware of how your emotions and actions can affect the people around you.
- Self Regulation: Staying in control of your emotions.
- Internal Motivation: Being hopeful and determined to achieve your goals.
- Empathy: Being able to put yourself in someone else’s situation
- Social Skills: Being able to communicate effectively, resolve conflict and manage change.
Now, that might seem like a lot for a small child to handle, but the more and earlier we help our children learn to address the challenges they will face as they grow, the more equipped they will be when it comes to dealing with stressful and difficult situations in their lifetime.
Does Teaching Emotional Intelligence Work?
A study carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health with 226 kindergarten children identified them as having elevated behavioral and social classroom problems. These children underwent a project that taught them a hierarchical set of skills: monitoring of emotions; self-control/reducing escalation of emotions; and maintaining control and regaining equilibrium. The results of this project showed that these children who had received this intervention had a 46% mean decrease in disciplinary referrals and a 43% decrease in suspensions during the 4-month intervention period.
It does work, and it can start with your relationship with your child.
How To Nurture Emotional Intelligence In Your Child
- Hold your child when they want you and respond quickly to their cries. As we mentioned above, EQ starts as soon as they are born. By responding and comforting your child when they call out to you, develops security and trust.
- Accept and acknowledge your child’s emotions. How many times have we disregarded a child’s emotions by calling them "silly" or saying "it’s just a little scratch" or even "big boys and girls don’t cry?" These are not necessarily bad things to say, but depending on the situation, this can lead to your child repressing their emotions and becoming afraid to express them. Instead, tell them that it’s okay to cry and try to understand why they may be feeling this way.
- Don’t let your child believe that they are perfect. It’s natural as a parent to truly believe your child is perfect. In reality, nobody is perfect. We all have our flaws and shortcomings at times. Teaching your child that it’s okay not to be perfect, that they will struggle but are still deserving of love regardless, can build resilience to overcome challenging situations and help them identify their weaknesses as well as their strengths.
- Tell your child that it’s okay to be vulnerable. How many of us adults have tripped in public, immediately get up, look around and hope that no-one saw? We all have this fear of being seen in a vulnerable position. We have natural defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from being hurt or rejected. Teach your child that it’s ok to make mistakes as long as we learn from them, and even sometimes when we don’t!
- Practice gratitude and joy. Instill the mindset in your children that whatever happens in life, there are still many things to be grateful for. This will build appreciation, develop a positive mindset and create joy and happiness for your child in everything they do. A gratitude journal where he/she or your whole family can write or draw things that they are grateful for every day is a wonderfully positive activity.
- Teach your child to be mindful of the impact of their actions. From the words they say to the actions they display, help teach your child accountability - to own up to their mistakes, say sorry, and not to shy away from blame. This will teach them that it’s okay to make mistakes and help them find solutions to rectify their wrongdoings. Not only will this develop strong problem-solving skills in your child but also empathy and ownership.
- Be an excellent role model. This is probably the most important strategy when it comes to teaching your child as they model your behaviour. Be open with your emotions, handle your stress and anger effectively, practice being seen as vulnerable, own up to your mistakes, practice gratitude and dare to do things that will challenge you. This will help create the environment your child needs to express their emotions, develop these skills and implement them in a safe space.
We are excited to see schools and learning centers introducing EQ classes into their curriculum, but also hope these tips are helpful to your families at home! Feel free to share any thoughts, insights, or questions you have on our Facebook page or here on our blog. If you are interested to learn more, check out our other blog posts!