It’s no secret that once you become a mother, you’re changed forever and your priorities drastically shift (in fact, science confirms this). What was once about you is now all about them—are they hitting their milestones? Is the dentist appointment booked? Do they have a warm enough jacket for this cold weather? But beyond your child’s physical wellbeing, what are you doing to help grow and cultivate their emotional health?
Emotional intelligence is critically important to our success and overall health. But how do you foster this emotional growth in your child? Knowing where to start can be daunting, especially if you haven’t experienced good emotional support in your own life. Good news: it is possible for you—no matter your background—to promote increased emotional intelligence in your children and, in the process, raise healthy, happy children.
What is emotional intelligence (EQ)?
But first, let’s break down these two little words: emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the ability to understand, regulate, and express one’s own emotions. Not only that, but it also refers to the ability to perceive, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. The concept of EQ was first introduced in the 1950s, when psychologist Abraham Maslow identified the significance of “emotional strength.” The term emotional intelligence was coined in 1964 by Michael Beldoch, and, ever since, research has continued to demonstrate its importance.
So, now that we better understand EQ, let’s dig into six ways to raise emotionally intelligent children:
Start with yourself
You cannot help your children if you do not help yourself first. As the important airplane safety message says, “put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others.” Take time to notice your emotions, triggers, and coping skills. Practice the following tools yourself before working on them with your children. After all, parenting is about continuous growth, right?
Name and honor feelings—yours and theirs
Understanding, honoring, and naming feelings can start from the time your child is an infant and continue throughout childhood. You can respond to their cues appropriately, practice facial expressions, and engage in active listening. A simple way to name and honor feelings in your home is to take turns daily choosing a feeling that best describes you in that moment and talk about why with your children. For instance, “I am feeling excited this morning because I get to visit your classroom and read today,” or “I am feeling sad today because I miss your grandma, should we facetime her today?” You can use art, a feelings chart, books, or storytelling to support this process. Holding space for you and your children to experience feelings can take practice, especially with difficult emotions, like anger, jealousy, or sadness. So instead of getting down on yourself if you struggle, just take a deep breath, and begin again!
Teaching empathy may feel like an arduous task, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are two super simple ways to start.
- Share with your children when a loved one is struggling in an age-appropriate way. “Aunt Jen is under a lot of stress, which is why she yells sometimes. What do you think we could do to help her out?”
- Use real life examples to highlight empathy. Next time a child falls and cries at the park, use it to talk to your children and build empathy for others. “Wow they fell–I wonder if they are physically hurt or scared. When you are scared, what makes you feel better? That is a great idea! Why don’t you go and check on them?”
Model and support healthy coping skills
This concept goes back to the importance of taking care of yourself before you can take care of others. The best part is that, in taking care of yourself, you are helping your children because they learn by example. And, while that can sometimes be annoying—cue the two-year-old yelling—it can also be wonderful. When your children see you taking care of yourself through exercise, meditation, journaling, or socializing, they learn that they can engage in those things as well. So, the next time you are frustrated, don’t hide it from your children. Instead, let them see your coping skills. Not only will modeling coping skills help you feel better, but it will also allow your kids to learn them without even realizing it. Here’s a powerful practice that’s simple to implement—try ending the day by sharing one thing you are grateful for with your children.
Teach and model social skills
Have you let your friendships go now that you are a parent? Or do you make sure you get in your biweekly chat with your pals across the globe? No matter where you are in this journey, you can support yourself and your children by engaging in healthy social relationships. Let your children see you set and hold boundaries. Take time out to make that phone call, go to dinner, or check out the new art gallery with a friend. Also remember it’s ok to say “no” when you need to. Letting your children watch you navigate social situations is an incredible learning opportunity for them. A helpful tip—try to have regular conversations with your children about social norms, your family values, appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, and setting social boundaries. In doing so, your children will have a strong sense of autonomy when making new friends. You can ensure you are supporting your children in cultivating new friendships and nurturing existing ones through role play or by giving live, in-the-moment feedback.
Engage in emotionally intelligent play
Play is the language through which children learn. Yes, even teenagers. Play looks different with a four-year-old than with a teenager, but it’s how both interact with their world. Often, when I suggest “play” to parents, they struggle with—and sometimes downright avoid—this advice. Many feel that play is “boring” or that they are “not good at” or “can’t remember” how to play. However, once parents engage in play through an intellectual lens, they tend to enjoy it much more. Because play isn’t just play. It is a window into your child’s inner world. Use it as a tool to get to know them and to support them. For younger children, try engaging in imaginary play with specific scenarios you want to teach. For instance, you can play “making friends” with figurines or “monkey is scared to go to school, I wonder why? Do you think we can help him be brave?” For older children, play typically takes shape in the form of a video game, board game or sport. But the same theme applies—use your children’s play to help you understand them and their emotions on a deeper, healthier level. Pro tip—try utilizing open ended questions during play times.
Finally, when it comes to emotional intelligence, the one tool I find to be irreplaceable is books. Reading is a wonderful way to teach, learn and grow. You can utilize books/audiobooks to support you in your practice of anything listed above.