9 Ways To Build Emotional Intelligence in Children

Ways to build emotional intelligence in children

According to this article, emotion coaching is one of the most important parenting practices of all time. Kids can be awfully emotional, particularly around the ages of 2-5 years. My middle child, JJ, had one dark day last week. A day when everything fell apart, laying on the ground like dejected pieces of uncooperative Lego.

He wanted his Lego fixed in a particular way. But frustration got the better of him. (You know how it is when we get frustrated right? Nothing works, and everything seems to be pitted against us.)

He melted into a boiling mess. I was also getting frustrated, but I stood by and tried to console and encourage him, offering my help whenever his fingers struggled.

“This can be hard sometimes,” I offered, “the pieces keep falling off.”

“They just don’t act the way we want them to, don’t they?”

“How frustrating.”

I tried to use empathy and acknowledge his feelings.

At some points, he kept quiet, which I took as a good sign. But as he kept going and new struggles emerged, he would start up again.

As you can probably tell, we’ve experienced our fair share of bad days. But I’ve learnt some very valuable lessons along the way, and here are nine of them.

1. Focus on the problem. Don’t view the child as the problem.

Trust me, I know it’s so easy to look at your kid and start thinking, “you’re being a pain in the a** again.” But the moment we do this, we start to see our child as being the problem, instead of having a need that needs to be resolved. It takes our attention away from the problem at hand and curbs our ability to solve it.

2. Try not to get angry

Over-reacting comes easy when you’re already irritable or just had it up to here on any given day. But take some breaths and keep calm, and things usually take a turn for the better. At the very least, they will learn to eventually calm down because you are.

If you do react, try to regain composure by leaving the scene for a couple of minutes – drink some water or just look at the sky – whatever that helps you refocus. Then head in there and press rewind. It doesn’t always need to go downhill, you’re capable of turning around and trudging uphill. The same goes for your child.

It isn’t easy, especially in the heat of the moment. But this encourages me:

Try thinking this way: ‘You know, I don’t want my child behaving like this, but right at the moment he is. I can handle this. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, I give him permission to do this right now. In time, we’ll learn something new.’ When in your heart and mind you give him permission to be the way he is, your stress level goes down and you feel more in control. It works.

Helping Your Kids Deal with Anger, Fear, and Sadness, H. Norman Wright

3. Involve them in problem-solving

Tell yourself, there are at least 10 ways to resolve this peacefully. Verbalize your thought process. Let your child see first-hand how problem-solving is done and you’ll see him following your example down the road. “Hmm, you want your skate-scooter now but mummy forgot to bring it out for you today. What can we do about it?” If it’s the first few times you’re problem-solving together, maybe give some prompts or suggestions as starters. (“Hmm, shall we race home and see who gets to the scooter first?)

You’ll be surprised. Sometimes your child will come up with his own creative solution; at the very least it will distract him from his overflowing emotions and start thinking, which is exactly what you want.

4. Label their feelings.

Give him the words to express his frustration. Eg., Are you feeling sad or mad? The funny thing is many emotions get expressed through (or covered up by) anger. When someone feels hurt or rejected or scared, it’s common to see them lashing out in anger. But it’s good for us to be able to recognise the actual emotion that’s going on and be able to process it in a healthy way.

The book I quoted above has this to say in relation to identifying feelings:

Repeat out loud what you think is occurring. If your child was hurt, let him experience hurt. If your child was afraid, let him experience fear. If your child was frustrated, let him experience frustration.

5. Give them avenues to express their emotions

We all need healthy ways to express our emotions, especially when they are overwhelming and negative. One way is  to talk about them with someone you trust. Now as much as you may find it unnatural to share about your feelings with your kids (especially when you’re feeling cranky or upset yourself), it actually helps them to see you model how it’s done.

After that unhappy episode with his lego, we started to play with some chalk. I suggested to JJ to draw out his feelings when his lego wouldn’t cooperate, and he drew an angry face on the ground. (See below) The next time, he gets unhappy with his toys or siblings, I’ll remember to ask him to DRAW his emotions out. Or maybe suggest that he release the negative energy by cycling up and down the block really fast. (I know going for a walk/run certainly helps to lift my mood!)

chalk drawing of angry face

6. Give opportunities for social and peer to peer interaction

Plan play dates. Or just head down to the playground regularly so he is able to make new friends, or play with existing ones. To be honest, sometimes I’m tempted to stay away from such play dates because of the 101 possibly negative things that could happen. But I realise that kids just need practice, and the more he socialises, the more he gets to learn about coping with another person’s demands or needs, and negotiating with others.

7. Use games as a tool

If you have simple boardgames that are age-appropriate for your kids, play with them. There are so many things that you can learn through games, such as how to be a gracious winner or loser, turn-taking, and being patient while waiting for the others to make their moves.

8 . The aftermath

This is an important stage of building emotional awareness. Take advantage of it; if you don’t, it’s like having a quarrel with your spouse and then sweeping it under the carpet. No one learns anything from it, and the incident is very likely to repeat itself.

The aftermath is where you are both calm and able to think back to the incident and explore questions like, “How did you feel when [incident] happened?” and “What can we do differently next time?”

9. Seize teachable moments

Teachable moments crop up every day, and the best way to impart emotion skills is to seize these moments.

Our children are constantly showing us how they feel through their facial expressions, how tightly they hold our hands, or by their tentative walk. We can take these precious times to talk with them how they feel and to listen and share our own feelings. Parents and teachers often don’t take the time to talk about feelings, and yet when we do, we get enormous rewards. We give our children a vocabulary that will help them navigate through the difficult moments and celebrate the great moments with others. These are the children who will be there and to say “Love you.” – Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn

What are some strategies that you employ at home to train your kids emotionally? Please share them with us in the comments below.

If this article has been helpful, do share them with your friends.

To keep updated on our latest posts, subscribe to our weekly newsletter (via the box in the sidebar) or like our facebook page!

Read also:

Little Lessons: Raising empathic children

This youtube video about empathy explains the concept of empathy really well, and humorously too. It mentions that the four qualities of empathy are:

  1. perspective taking
  2. staying out of judgment
  3. recognising emotion in other people
  4. communicating that emotion

I think more often than not, I end up being a bit like the goat – taking comfort in my own safety net, avoiding making myself vulnerable, and silver-lining other people’s dark clouds.

Empathy is a key ingredient for success in all aspects of life, especially inter-personal relationships. But what really is empathy? This article on the 6 habits of highly empathic people on the Greater Good website defines it as:

empathy - a definition

I was convicted about three things from reading that article:

1) I should get out of my comfort zone and develop greater curiosity about people, especially those who are very different from me. Sometimes I allow fear to hold me back from striking up a proper conversation, and after a few steps forward I tend to retreat.

2) Seek to understand instead of judge.

3) Listen wholeheartedly, and avoid dishing out quick solutions and advice.

As I work on honing my empathic skills, I also hope to build that in my children.

Children who are empathic tend to do better in school and in social situations. Empathy also reduces aggression and is seen as the solution to bullying and other anti-social behaviour, as evidenced by Roots of Empathy, an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant results in reducing levels of aggression among school children while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. Simply by allowing school children to observe the growth and development of an infant over an entire school year.

It’s definitely a good skill when it comes to conflict resolution. Vera and JJ now fight multiple times a week. Over the skate scooter, over who gets the last chocolate or biscuit, over who pushes the lift buttons… Anything and everything is a potential minefield.

I recently noticed that Vera shows a much greater level of empathy to baby J than to JJ. Whenever baby J cries, she would hurry over to him, coo at him, and offer him his soother or rock him if he’s on his rocker. She even tries to read his cries, like “you’re hungry huh…” or “you want your pacifier, is it?”

With JJ, it’s a different story. She’s inconsistent towards him – at times deciphering his wants and needs and helping him address those; at times ignoring him altogether.

I’ve praised and acknowledged her whenever she demonstrates some level of goodwill and kindness towards her brother. And vice versa with JJ. But on some days, both are unable to give in, JJ tries to grab something or unknowingly pushes Vera too roughly, and BOOM, tearfest.

I’ve had to step in and play mediator at least three times the last week. (I usually try to let big sister negotiate with him on her own, but I do step in when things go downhill.) I would bend down, eye to eye with the perpetrator or the person who looks most hurt at the moment (read: bawling loudly), and ask for a brief description of what happened. Whodoneit usually doesn’t matter to me as I want them to recognise that both are at fault.

Both have been selfish. Both have done wrong.

Sometimes (when I remember to), I would ask big sister and JJ this question: “How do you think (the other) feels after you pushed him / shouted at him / took his toy?”

“Sad” come the usual reply. Or “angry.” Sometimes…Silence.

Thankfully, there are ways to help our little ones develop and learn empathy. Here are some that I try to practise at home regularly:

Empathise with your child – acknowledge their emotions; don’t belittle them. “I know you really want to tie your laces yourself.” Or “Are you feeling angry because it was your turn to press the lift button but little brother pressed it instead?” Let them know that it isn’t wrong to feel upset, rejected, lonely, or afraid. But teach them to express these big emotions verbally, and give them ideas to cheer themselves up such as hugging their lovey or playing with their favourite toy.

Give them opportunities to hear each other out. Practise talking about your emotions in front of them too.

Read books about feelings such as My Many Coloured Days by Dr Seuss and The Very Cranky Bear.

Use pretend play – We’ve been discovering the world of pretend play lately, and I find it’s really useful for exploring even the most difficult, hard-to-speak-about emotions. Any soft toy can take on an identity and personality of its own so be creative and dramatic!

Last but not least, kids learn the most by how they’ve been treated. By us, the parents. When they are upset, cranky, or frightened, do we shut them out or scold them for feeling those emotions? This is a reminder for myself too, and I hope we learn to treat their feelings with care, so that they too can grow to be caring, sensitive, and empathic individuals.

Do you have a suggestion on how to encourage empathy in our children? I would love to hear your views and experience.

This is week 15 of the Little Lessons series, which runs on the blog every Thursday. Do grab our badge and link up your little lessons / learning activities below!

mamawearpapashirt

<div align="center"><a href="http://www.mamawearpapashirt.com/category/little-lessons-2/" title="mamawearpapashirt" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.mamawearpapashirt.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Little-Lessons.jpg" alt="mamawearpapashirt" style="border:none;" /></a></div>
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...