Raising Emotionally and Socially Intelligent Children
Raising emotionally and socially intelligent children are essential. So many of us adults, struggle with dealing with our emotions and the emotions of those around us. Wouldn’t it be great if we can teach our children and ourselves to deal with their emotions and the emotions of those around them in a calm and effective manner? Before we jump into tips to help raise emotionally and socially intelligent children, please take a moment and pin this post to your homeschool board.
How emotions work for us and our children
Emotions play an immense role in our children’s behavior, learning, relationships and ability to focus.
Have you ever noticed how when we are stressed, anxious, or triggered, our brain and nervous system react immediately? You can feel your body react to these states of distress. This is because our amygdala sounds the alarm as our brains go into a psychological state of fight or flight.
The ability to think, reason, and make rational decisions decreases. We are no longer emotionally grounded. When this occurs to a small child with BIG feelings, you have the recipe for an emotional disaster or as we parents know it, the biggest temper tantrum in the history of the world.
Emotional intelligence gives you the ability to respond rather than react. In order to teach this life-long skill to your kids, you need to first put it into practice for yourself.
Step one for parents is learning to cultivate self-awareness or learning to recognize when you are reacting unconsciously, rather than consciously responding. When you’re able to make this differentiation, you then have the ability to choose what to do next. You can then continue to react or respond from a place of awareness. That is emotional intelligence. If you can teach it to your kids, you are setting them up for a lifetime of benefits.
Children with higher emotional intelligence:
- Have less anxiety and depression
- Are more attentive and less hyperactive
- Do better academically
- Tend to have greater leadership skills
- Are likely to have quality relationships with others
- Are less aggressive and less likely to bully others
- Are less likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes
The interesting thing is, this is a skill your kids can work on, just like music and math. Here are three ways to build emotional and social intelligence in your children.
1. Express Emotions
Expressing emotions thoughtfully requires you to first be aware that you’re having them in the first place. As an adult, think about how overwhelming your emotions can feel in the throes of an argument with a partner, how sad you may have felt at the loss of a pet, or the anxiety you may have felt preparing for a job interview. Now imagine how big those feelings of anger, sadness, or anxiety might feel to a child who lacks the life experience or emotional maturity to deal with them.
Give your child the vocabulary
One of the best things you can do for a small child dealing with big feelings is to give them a vocabulary of words to help them describe their feelings. Invite your child to share his or her feelings with you. Suggest words like: “I’m feeling sad,” or “When this happens, I feel…” or “I don’t like when…”
Model the behavior
As an adult, you can model this behavior for your child by using those words yourself to express when you’re frustrated, impatient, annoyed, and even overwhelmed. Invite your child to share their feelings with you. Happy emotions count, too—surprise, excitement, and joy is wonderful to share. Create a safe, non-judgmental space, and enjoy the authentic connection that will come from sharing feelings with one another.
2. Actively Listen
Have you ever found yourself only half-listening to your child—responding with comments such as “hmmm…” or “really?” while silently continuing your own train of thought? It’s understandable, listening takes energy, intention, and attention that sometimes is hard to gather. However, when we listen deeply to another person, we are communicating “I hear you and I care.”
How to partake in active listening:
Active listening requires you to be fully present with another person so that you can understand what they are thinking and feeling. When a child shares something with you, help keep the door of communication open with comments that reflect empathy, compassion, and support, such as:
- I’m really interested…tell me more…
- Wow! What was that like for you?
- That must have been…(hard, easy, fun, exciting, etc.)
- I’m wondering if you might be feeling…(sad, lonely, hurt, angry, etc.)
You can foster active listening with maintaining eye contact, acknowledging comments, and asking questions that reflect curiosity and interest. Teach your children how to actively listen to others too and notice the increased sharing, kindness, and caring that follows.
3. Engage in Perspective-Taking
Most of us approach our daily lives from our personal perspective, thinking about how this or that is affecting us. However, cultivating the ability to experience or imagine another person’s perspective, broadens our thinking, builds empathy and compassion and reduces hurtful behavior towards others.
Ideas to help cultivate this skill in your children:
To help cultivate this skill in your child, consider some easy topics for practice. For example, while reading a story or watching a movie together, talk with your child about the characters. Explore how different characters might have been feeling, as well as what might have contributed to any conflict the characters experienced:
- I wonder how (character) might have been feeling when x happened. I was thinking he might have felt sad because … What do you think he was feeling?
- I was really surprised by …. or I wonder what might have caused (character) to act that way.
- What do you think might have been a good way to solve the disagreement they were having?
- If you were in the same situation, how would you have wanted (character) to have treated you? What would you have wanted him/her to say?
Engaging Perspective-Taking with older kids
With older children, try perspective-taking with news events by exploring an issue from several sides. Issues such as immigration, global warming, health care, oil drilling, and animal rights can all be explored from multiple perspectives, with an attitude of curiosity and inquiry. Together, you can build cultural perspectives, appreciation, and respect for others, and also heighten awareness of inequities and mistreatment.
How Engaging Perspective-Taking helps your children
As children try on the perspectives of others, they often become more flexible in their thinking and less rigid in their positions. They can become more accepting and tolerant of others and ultimately of themselves.
We know that emotional intelligence is a path to self-esteem, loving and harmonious relationships, responsible decision-making, success in the workplace, and overall well-being.
By learning to express emotions, listen actively, and take multiple perspectives, your child will develop more positive, caring, respectful relationships with others, resolve conflicts more easily, and become less stressed and more confident and optimistic. When you cultivate social and emotional intelligence in children, you are fostering healthier, kinder communities and, ultimately, a more peaceful world.