How to build emotional intelligence in kids

 In Building Emotional Intelligence

My goal here at Mindful Little Minds is to help you raise emotionally intelligent children. Talking about emotions, and teaching kids about emotions, is something I feel truly passionate about. Why? Because developing children’s emotional intelligence is vital for their future success and happiness!

But many of us weren’t taught these skills ourselves as children. So while we know, as parents and teachers, that developing children’s emotional intelligence is important, we don’t know where to start when it comes to actually teaching it. And no-one can learn what they are not taught.

That’s where I come in. I want you to learn these skills, and I want your kids to learn these skills. Because they are teachable skills. All you need is some information and the right tools. And I’ve got them here for you, so let’s dive in!

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is our ability to identify emotions in ourselves and others, understand these emotions, and then use them to guide our thinking and behaviour.

There are many different theories that have been developed in an attempt to understand emotional intelligence. Research on the topic spans more than 25 years.

But one of the most influential theories on the topic is that of psychologist Dr Daniel Goleman, Ph.D. Dr Goleman identified five essential skills that make up emotional intelligence: Self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.

Why is developing children’s emotional intelligence so important?

Daniel Goleman has previously reported that it is emotional intelligence (EI), rather than IQ that accounts for the majority of our children’s future success. Research has shown, time and again that children with high emotional intelligence:

  • Perform better in school
  • Have more satisfying and successful future relationships
  • Experience less stress and anxiety
  • Make healthier life choices as adults
  • Are more competent employees and leaders

People with high emotional intelligence also tend to report higher levels of happiness and general life satisfaction. Sounds like a pretty compelling argument for developing children’s emotional intelligence doesn’t it? But wait, can we develop it, or are we just born with it?

Where does our Emotional Intelligence come from?

Research tells us that the skills required for emotional intelligence are partly determined by our genetics, our biology, and the functions of our brain. For example, very young children do not yet have the ability to express their emotions with words. And empathy is a skill that does not develop fully until middle childhood.

However, research also tells us that emotional intelligence skills are not static traits that never change. They are skills that can be taught and learned, and can improve over time. And if we work within the limits of our biology, and focus on building skills in an age appropriate way, our children can become better at them. We can build and nurture children’s emotional intelligence skills through modelling, mindfulness, play, and connection.

How do I develop my child’s emotional intelligence?

There are so many options when it comes to developing children’s emotional intelligence. So to make it easier, let’s look at each of the five components of emotional intelligence one by one. We’ll talk about helpful strategies for teaching each skill.

1. Self awareness

Self awareness is the ability to recognise our own emotions and how they affect both us, and the people around us. When we are self aware, we are able to acknowledge our own strengths and weaknesses, as well as our triggers!

How do I teach this skill to my child?

With mindfulness of course! Mindfulness is the skill of being present in a moment and simply being aware of our internal state. Mindfulness practice helps us recognise our own emotions by simply bringing our attention to what is happening inside our body.

To learn more about teaching mindfulness to kids, check out this blog post. And for mindfulness resources for kids that will help them develop self awareness, see the Mindfulness section of the shop here.

2. Self regulation

Self regulation is the ability to remain in control of your actions regardless of your emotional state. It is the concept of thinking before you act. The ability to respond rather than react. Because they are self aware, an emotionally intelligent person is able to regulate their emotions. They use information about how they are feeling to guide their thinking and therefore, their behaviour.

How do I teach this skill to my child?

This skill is primarily taught to your child through modelling. When we are able to respond calmly during times of stress and heightened emotional arousal, we are able to help our children remain calm, too. If we can pause and make an intentional choice, we teach them to do the same. The idea of responding rather than reacting is one of the main tenets of Mindful Parenting. To read more about mindful parenting, see this blog post. And for more helpful mindful parenting resources, see the Mindful Parenting section of the shop here.

3. Motivation

Motivation is about our ability to persevere even when we encounter obstacles. Emotionally intelligent people are often highly motivated and able to work towards a goal, even when it becomes difficult. Because they can manage their emotions they are more resilient and can cope better with set backs and disappointments.

How do I teach this skill to my child?

Fostering a growth mindset in your child (and modelling one yourself) is a fantastic way to help your child work on their motivation and resilience. Children with a growth mindset are able to view mistakes and failures as a necessary part of the learning process and know that with practice and perseverance, they can improve. For more information about helping your child develop a growth mindset, see this blog post. And for more growth mindset resources for your child, see the Growth Mindset section of the shop here.

4. Empathy

Empathy (or social awareness) is about our ability to perceive and respond to the emotions of others. Empathic people are able to connect with others and show compassion, which helps them develop satisfying relationships with others.

How do I teach this skill to my child?

To teach the skill of empathy to our children we need to talk about emotions a lot. Our own emotions. Their emotions. Other people’s emotions. We can help our children match the name of emotions with their physical expression. For example, if we see someone crying, we can say, “Your friend is crying, do you think they feel sad?” And when we label their emotions and respond with empathy to them, they learn to do this for others.

For more information about building empathy and teaching children about emotions, see this blog post. And for resources that help with labelling and learning about emotions, you can head to the emotional literacy section of the shop here.

5. Social Skills

This is our ability to use emotional intelligence skills in our interpersonal relationships. To effectively communicate and express our own emotions within relationships, and to effect the emotions of others.

How do I teach this skill to my child?

Children learn social skills through play, both unstructured, imaginative play, and through games. Unstructured play with siblings and friends gives children the opportunity to practice their social skills. While they play alongside others and create imaginary worlds, they practice their empathy skills, and self awareness and self expression. They learn conflict resolution skills and they learn to regulate themselves too.

And when they play more structured games, particularly games that encourage them to learn about and express their feelings, they practice important social skills like turn taking, and cooperation and self expression. For some fun games that help kids learn social and emotional skills, see the Toys and Games section of the website here.

I hope you’ve now got some great ideas for building up and nurturing your child’s emotional intelligence. If you’d like some more support to help your child with their emotions, we’d love to have you inside our Mindful Parenting Facebook Group, the Mindful Little Minds Community. We are a thriving community of parents and teachers dedicated to raising emotionally intelligent, resilient kids. Come and join us!

Showing 2 comments
  • Sonia

    I am really struggling with my son’s behaviour due to his feelings

    • Sarah Conway

      Sorry to hear that Sonia, I hope this article was helpful for you 🙂

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