Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Teaching our Children to be Emotionally Intelligent


One of the most frustrating things can be feeling a certain way and not knowing how to cope with those feelings – being stressed to the point where you feel like you can’t function, being so angry it’s difficult to concentrate, etc. The inability to deal with, or at least express, your emotions appropriately can lead to many fights and/or misunderstanding in any relationship.

As adults we have gained many skills over our lifetimes. We are more likely to be able to cope with our emotions and have the vocabulary to express how we are feeling. Our children generally lack those skills. Sometimes, when they are angry or acting out – when they are causing problems and seem emotionally “all over the place”—it is tough to remember that they have the same emotions as us. They feel them just as strongly, but what they lack is the ‘know-how’ for dealing with them. They also, sometimes don’t know how to read other people’s emotions and therefore don’t know how to act or react when faced with an emotional person – be it a sibling, parent, friend, or stranger.
Whenever our children are hurt, angry, sad, or even happy, we have the wonderful opportunity to teach our children how to be emotionally intelligent. Each emotion can be given a name, a face, and even an appropriate response.

How can we help our children to better understand emotions?

Spend Time in Front of a Mirror

One way to teach your children what emotions look like is as simple as spending some time in front of a mirror with them. What better way to demonstrate what a face looks like when feeling ________ (emotion) than to show your child in the mirror and have them show you the same face. If they are old enough you can teach them the names and have them repeat it in a voice that matches their expression. Have your child look in a mirror with you and make an angry face with them and then in a low, growling voice have your child say, “I am angry!” This will be seen as a fun and silly game to your child but they will be learning invaluable skills.

Magazines, Books, TV, or Movies

Another fun activity would be to look through magazines, books, or even as you watch a television show or movie with your child and help them point out different facial expressions and talk about what the person might be feeling. A good book for this is called, “How Are You Peeling?” It is a book filled with various fruits and vegetables that are staged and sculpted in a way to show emotions. They use a lot of emotion words like: frustrated, jumpy, bored, secure and grumpy. Each page has various expressions and words; you can go through with your child and try to match the words with the fruits. If your children are old enough it would be immensely fun for them to make their own fruit sculptures and you can help guide them to focus on emotions.

Have Child Identify Past Experiences of Emotion

Most importantly during each of these activities it is a prime opportunity for you to have your child identify moments when they felt _______ (emotion). Discuss what happened that made them feel that way and what they did. If their response was appropriate then it is very important that you praise them and tell them why it was good that they reacted how they did. If they did not respond appropriately then firstly, make sure you validate their feelings. Let them know there is nothing wrong with feeling any particular way and that it was perfectly natural that they felt the way they did. Secondly, make sure you discuss their response. Specifically, why the way they reacted was inappropriate and then how it would have been better – letting your child lead the conversation of what constitutes appropriate behavior so you know they are engaged and thinking about how they should react.

Make a Plan

You can also make a plan with your child about what they are going to do if something similar happens again—i.e., if your child’s friend ignored them at recess to play with someone new and your child yelled at them because they felt angry, you might discuss what their real feelings were (abandoned, lonely, hurt). Then, you could discuss how it is okay to feel that way but yelling at your friend is not okay. You can then help guide your child to understand that maybe if they had told their friend that it hurt their feelings and asked to play with the new friends too, then perhaps the friend would have apologized and they may have even been able to make new friends. In identifying what they should have done they have already begun to form a plan for how to handle the situation if it were to happen again.

Make Emotion Cards

By helping them speak about how they are feeling, you can even make them emotion cards with a simple drawing of a face and the name of the emotion the face is showing. Your child can tape it to their door and ask to be left alone. This way they are able to identify their emotions and let other people know and then also are appropriately asking for time to be alone to deal with them. This is a good way to teach all of your children to respect others and their emotions by beginning in the home.

Remember this is New to Your Child

Remember that every time your child feels something it is an opportunity for you to add to their emotional intelligence, to give them words and actions to deal with their emotions. Make sure that everything you do begins with validating how they are feeling and with an understanding that they are new at this. Also remembering that emotions have the ability to overwhelm.

Do you have other ideas?



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