What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is generally regarded as our ability to identify, express and control emotions. Working as a classroom teacher (and as a parent of three of my own), I know that some children are better able to adapt to and cope with new or different situations while others need to be supported and taught more intentionally how to manage their feelings.
- When we think about our days, we understand they are filled with different emotion
- Happy because the sky is clear and cornflower blue when you wake up.
- Annoyed because someone used the last of the milk before you got your coffee.
- Sad because a workmate is leaving for another job in a different city.
But what of our children? They are still learning to even recognize their feelings. So it’s important for parents and teachers alike to help children identify, understand and communicate their feelings. Not only is this important for their own emotional development but it can also smooth the way socially, especially when a child is facing a big transition, like starting school.
So how do we help?
How to Boost Emotional Intelligence
1. Label the Emotions
To understand anything, you first need to learn the correct language to identify and articulate your understanding appropriately. Books are a great tool to help guide a child to understanding a range of different emotions, and they help children to learn words to describe them too.
What emotions might feel like – hot, shaky, sweaty, warm, prickly
What emotions might sound like – loud, quiet, crackly
What emotions might look like – pale, red, tight, flushed
Then later, if they are feeling angry or sad, talk about how they are feeling, what made them feel that way and relate their experience back to the book by asking what colour they are at that moment.
2. Own the Emotions
We all like to feel like we belong somewhere. Children can sometimes feel very confused and alone with their emotions. As adults, we can help them understand that a range of emotions is perfectly normal by simply talking aloud about how we are feeling at different times.
I’m so angry at myself right now. I forgot to pick up the cake I ordered for the party tomorrow. Now I’m going to have to make a special trip to collect it but I know I shouldn’t drive when I’m feeling like this so I might go for a walk outside first before I leave to calm down.
It can feel strange and forced but it is so valuable for our children to hear that how we feel is exactly how they feel sometimes, and if you include what you do to change how you are feeling, then they have some tools to try too. I’m an advocate of physical activity so instead of hitting a pillow, try bouncing a ball as hard as they can, running to touch different objects in the backyard or jumping on the trampoline as high as they can. Some children will prefer quiet instead – like a safe place to go and read or draw.
Give your child space and direction they need to manage their big emotions, and then try to talk to them later (when they are calmer) about what happened.
3. Show Them You Care
Showing your children that you care about them and what is happening in their world is so important.
Sometimes they just need to know you are listening to them, that you empathize with them even if you can’t fix it for them or agree with them. Sometimes they might just need help to navigate the complex reality of some friendships.
Put down your device, sit down to dinner regularly and have a conversation with them remembering that children up to ten years of age are very literal. If you tell a child you miss them when they go to school, they might then want to stay with you because they don’t want you to feel sad.
Children need to know that you are their biggest fan and love them but that you might not always like what they are doing or saying. The two things must be kept separate and you have to make this distinction clear to your child whilst making them feel safe enough to feel and express all of their emotions.
I love you but I don’t like it when you yell at your sister that way.
You look upset. Do you want to tell me what’s happening?
Being able to let it all out whether it’s at 3, lying on the floor kicking and screaming, or slamming doors in their wake at 14, most of us feel better when these emotions are released. Showing your child they can express their emotions in a variety of ways that don’t hurt or harm is important. Expressing emotions through art or writing can be very self-empowering too.
Going back to my own school starter, she was overwhelmed being at school all day but would contain these emotions until she got safely home and then it would spill out everywhere.
Throw in some homework and by the end of the term, most nights were a mess. To help her, we decided, with the support of her teacher, to give her some days off school here and there and, unlike a sick day, we would spend the day doing things together she enjoyed.