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Maybe Your Kid's Not So Smart After All

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.

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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 emotions.

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 identification.

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 warning.

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 mind-body connection.

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 feelings.

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 empathic manner.

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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.

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Photo Credit: mom.me

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