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Emotional intelligence is one of those topics that sparks
discussion at different points during the school year, and for good reason. The
ability to manage your "on emotions" and
understand the emotions of others leads to better interpersonal relationships, solid
conflict resolution skills and strong leadership skills.
Truly, emotional intelligence should be filed under basic life skills. It would be a great thing to learn at school.
A new German
study reveals that children who possess a comprehensive understanding of
their own and others' emotions (emotional intelligence) are better able to
maintain focus in a learning environment. In short, building an emotional
vocabulary helps kids cope with the ups and downs of the school day.
Countless kids sit on my couch and struggle to understand
their own emotions. Forget about empathizing with others for a moment; when
kids lack awareness of their own emotional states, it's nearly impossible to
accurately assess the emotional states of others.
Kids need to learn how to read emotions. Emotional
intelligence helps kids thrive in the home, in the classroom and in the community.
The best news is, it's never too late to begin learning about
While many preschools focus heavily on building social
skills, an essential component of early learning, building emotional
intelligence reaches beyond sharing and working through playground squabbles.
Beginning with learning to read facial cues and moving
toward assessing social emotional states based on environmental stressors and
non-visual cues, teaching kids to understand emotion empowers them to seek help
when they need it, empathize with those who might need help and cope with big
feelings as they arise.
It's no big secret that teaching emotional intelligence is a
big topic to tackle in a school setting, where academics take center stage and time slips away at an alarming pace.
While I believe that adding curriculum to address the social emotional needs of
young children is essential, I understand that it isn't realistic in every
school setting. Parents, however, can do a lot to help kids build these
important skills at home.
1. Begin with feelings
Most kids know happy from sad and angry from calm, but those
aren't the only feelings out there in the great big world. Also? Childhood is
full of shifting emotions. Your child might appear perfectly content one minute
only to fall apart the next. Understanding emotions and what triggers them
helps kids learn how to proceed when their emotional state shifts without
I love feelings posters because kids can look at the faces expressing different emotions and consider several options before declaring that they are happy or sad. I
posted a feelings faces poster in my family room, when my daughter was just 18 months old, and we've used it ever since.
Buy one, make one or even download one and post it in the
most action packed room of the house. Use it when your kids are calm (this is a
great time to talk about difficult feelings like jealousy and anger) and use it
when your kids experience an emotional shift. Understanding what feelings look
like helps kids process their feelings.
2. Establish the
For many kids, worry comes in the form of stomach problems,
headaches or sore muscles. Red-hot anger can lead to a racing heart and sweaty
palms. And jealousy can do a number on your teeth (you know, from the grinding of the teeth).
Emotions often lead to physical complaints, but many kids
don't draw the connections between their emotions and their bodies. We like to
draw body maps to show where our feelings affect our bodies in my house, but
you can also help your child understand the connection by discussing how you
experience emotions. I always tell my daughter that I know I'm worried when my
neck starts to ache because that's how my brain signals me to slow down and
work through my feelings. Consider your physical reactions to your emotions and
talk to your kids about the signals your brain sends you.
3. Validate your child's
Just like adults, kids need to feel heard and understood. As
parents, we sometimes try to fix the problem or downplay the emotions we
witness in an attempt to help kids avoid sitting with negative emotions. We
want to protect them, but we dismiss their feelings in the process.
Listen when your child approaches you with big feelings (no
matter how small you think they might be). Validate your child's feelings and
give him permission to feel that way. Instead of offering solutions,
communicate your understanding of the problem and give your child the
opportunity to sit with his emotions for a while.
4. Talk about empathy.
The best way to teach empathy is to model empathy. While
some kids might appear more empathic than others from the beginning, all kids
benefit from seeing adults in their lives acting in a compassionate and
Talk about what it means to have compassion for another.
When your child is frustrated with a peer, discuss the "what ifs" that could
have caused that peer to act in a negative manner. Discuss ways to show
compassion for others, even when it's hard, because living empathic lives
empowers children to look out for the well-being of others. And that is a
lesson worth teaching.