There are a lot of things parents may worry about on any given day. Will my child be healthy? Are they safe? Will they get an A on a test? Will someone sit with them at lunch?
However, we may be missing one of the most important questions we should be asking: Does my child have emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand and manage your own emotions as well as the emotions of others. Having emotional intelligence allows us to foster healthy thinking, behavior and relationships. Some experts would argue that having high emotional intelligence, or EQ, is even more important than having a high IQ.
It can be difficult even for adults to grasp the concept of emotional intelligence. So how might we help our children tap into and increase their EQ? We asked Dr. Kelsey Bradshaw, a clinical child psychologist with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, about emotional intelligence and children — how to help them understand it, build it and apply it in their daily lives.
How do you explain emotional intelligence to a child?
The development of EQ can start with how we talk to our babies and toddlers. For example, commenting on things they experience and their related emotion. This might look like commenting on your young child getting angry about wanting something you had to take from them due to safety concerns. You might say, “I know you are feeling mad because you really wanted to play with that, but I had to take it from you because it was unsafe.” Then allowing the child to have their moment of upset without questioning or telling them what they should do or feel, or trying to resolve the emotion for them. This helps to begin the process of emotional awareness and validation.
When it comes to older children, I would say you don’t really need to explain EQ. Rather, it is how you incorporate it into your life and bring it into your child’s awareness. When we teach children about emotions, this directly affects their EQ.
The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence created a useful acronym for the different domains of EQ called RULER, which stands for the following:
- Recognizing emotions in yourself and others
- Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions
- Labeling emotions accurately
- Expressing emotions appropriately
- Regulating emotions effectively
How can we teach children EQ?
I encourage parents to begin with teaching their children about recognition of emotions and understanding that more than one emotion can occur at a time. You can help a child to know what the different emotions are, their varying intensities, and the physical sensations and facial expressions related to each emotion. From there, you can begin to work on understanding what leads to — or triggers — differing emotional states and urges.
Once children can identify emotions and emotional triggers, it can become easier to discuss the function of specific emotions and healthy ways to cope. This also helps children to empathize with others. When they understand emotions in themselves, they can work toward trying to understand others.
Are there tools kids can use to tap into their EQ in times of anger, fear or sadness?
Ask your child how they feel when they are struggling with something. Put a name to the emotions — for example, sad, angry or anxious. Empathize with the experience and explore what causes that emotion.
If a pet dies, we can do things to distract the child or even get them a new pet. However, the message we send is that feeling sad is a bad thing and nobody wants them to be sad. Instead, acknowledge the loss and emotion. Validate that it hurts to lose something we care about and that these emotions will come and go.
We also want to help children to recognize there are steps we can take to help cope with the emotion or situation. After the child has had an opportunity to feel what they are going to feel, you can work with them on strategies. Maybe it would be helpful for that child who lost their pet to participate in some sort of ceremony or burial of the pet. Perhaps writing about memories or simply having someone they can talk to, who will listen and allow them to have the emotions they are having, would help.
How important is parental modeling of emotional intelligence skills in the nurturing of children’s EQ?
I would say it is paramount. If we are unable to demonstrate EQ skills — identify our emotions, recognize our children’s emotions and demonstrate a healthy acceptance of emotions — we cannot expect our children to do the same. This means being open about our emotions and using the parent-child relationship to help children carry over what they learn to other relationships.
If we can model EQ skills and accept our own children’s various emotional states, we can help to increase their emotional intelligence. This in turn helps them to live a well-rounded life.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Kelsey Bradshaw about emotional intelligence for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.