By Dr. Cat Baker, PhD, BCBA-D
Teaching your child emotional intelligence is essential. These skills and abilities allow kids to navigate their lives with greater ease, confidence, and enjoyment, both at home and at school. Emotional intelligence skills are also correlated with greater success in life.
Thankfully, skills related to emotional intelligence can be taught, honed, and strengthened. The positive parenting approach that we use in our Parent Coaching is a great way for parents to learn about these strategies in more depth. We also help children develop emotional intelligence skills in our Bootcamps. For now, let’s go over some quick tips to help you teach your child to sharpen these tremendously valuable qualities!
1. Teach the Value
Start by teaching your child about the importance of emotional stability, resiliency, and intelligence through having conversations about these topics. Redefine struggles as opportunities to learn and grow. Talk with your child about the fact that challenges and problems will arise in life all the time, but it’s how we handle those problems that make the biggest difference.
We can make things worse or better depending on our reactions. Talk through examples of this when you encounter them – perhaps through books that you read together or through challenges characters encounter in movies or on tv. How do they handle their problems? Did their reaction help or hurt the situation? Did it make them feel better or worse?
Before you can help your child develop emotional intelligence, you need to teach them why it’s important. Ensure your child understands that learning these skills takes time, but it will make a big difference in how easily they navigate the ups and downs of life.
2. Assess Current Strengths and Areas of Need
Take some time to assess your child’s current strengths and challenges when it comes to emotional intelligence. Perhaps they have great leadership and communication skills, but their ability to problem solve or deal with disappointments could use some work. Taking the time to consider your child’s current abilities when it comes to emotional intelligence is a critical step in the process.
3. Set Goals and Expectations that are Appropriate for Level & Age
Different kids are capable of different things at different times in their lives. It’s unreasonable to expect a two-year-old to be able to tie their shoes, but most seven-year-olds are more than ready to tackle that skill. The same principle applies to social and emotional skill work. It’s essential to set expectations and goals that your child can achieve. Also, it’s helpful to break these goals down into smaller steps in order to facilitate solid and meaningful progress along the way.
4. Teach them to Recognize Key Physiological Signs
When it comes to regulating negative emotions, self-awareness is one of the most important skills kids can develop. In fact, most other emotional skills build on this as the foundation! If your child can learn to recognize the physiological signs of anger, frustration, etc., they’ll be better equipped to apply coping strategies to help turn things around. Talk about these physiological signs when your child is feeling calm. Through careful conversation, they can learn to recognize important signs, such as when their heart begins to race or their palms begin to sweat, they’re experiencing the rise of a challenging emotion.
5. Teach Calming Strategies While Calm
When a child is emotionally charged, either positively or negatively, their brain is not in the optimal state for learning. This is a big part of the foundation of the positive parenting philosophy. When kids are calm, they actually learn skills faster and more fluently than when they’re aggravated. Therefore, you always want to teach calming techniques and strategies when your child is at their best because that’s when they’re most capable of learning. You’ll also want to go over the self-regulatory techniques often to help build the skill.
6. Learn Multiple Strategies & Techniques
It’s important to teach multiple calming strategies, not just one. Different people will gravitate toward different techniques, some techniques work better in certain situations, etc. It helps to expose your child to a handful of options to pick and choose from. There are so many fantastic strategies, like progressive muscle relaxation, visualization exercises, and cued relaxation that are taught through our behavioral programming. Also, techniques like deep breathing, taking a walk, or just spending some time with an animal, can be really helpful!
7. Remind them of Calming Strategies
Once your child has gotten closer to mastering the skill of self-regulation through applying coping strategies, you can prompt them to use what they’ve learned when you see that they’re starting to get frustrated. Be sure to teach this BEFORE they are completely melting down or their negative emotion is peaking. Once they peak, the brain is no longer in learning mode, and you may just have to “ride the wave” of emotion. So, when they start to get escalated you can point out, “hey, your face is a bit red. You might be frustrated. Let’s take a break.” The keys here are to do the teaching ahead of time, and to pay attention to those those physiological cues. Over time, your child will learn to recognize those signs more quickly and they may even start to apply calming strategies without your provocation.
8. Model It
We often come back to this point when talking about various topics, and that’s because it’s so important! It’s helpful if you model how to apply some of these techniques yourself. For example. if you don’t want your child to lose their temper, but you lose yours, you’re sending a mixed message.
Model the ways in which emotional intelligence helps you navigate problems more smoothly. You can do this by walking your child through how you problem-solve with emotional intelligence: “I’m getting really frustrated right now because this garbage disposal is clogged. But, I know that if I let myself get really upset, I’m going to have a harder time solving the problem. So, I’m going to stand here and take a couple of deep breathes, and then I’m going to look under the sink to try to figure out the problem.” Share your internal dialogue a bit, and discuss how you apply your own coping strategies when negative emotions pop up.
9. Acknowledge & Reward Progress Along the Way
It’s essential to celebrate accomplishments as you help your child through the process of improving their resiliency and emotional intelligence. Reward them in any way you see fit, just be sure to talk through what they did right and how proud you are of them. Always emphasize how the progress benefited them personally, as well. You can prompt them to think about this by asking your child to talk about how much easier it was to navigate the challenge when they stayed calm. Help them process and understand how these skills make their life a little easier and more fun too!
10. Be Consistent
As with just about everything in parenting, it’s so important to be consistent. If your child sees that if they get mad enough that you’ll give in, they’ll do it again and again, even if it only worked once. So, work on making consistency a top priority. This requires your time, energy, and patience, but the rewards are well worth all the efforts!
Looking for a guide to help your child learn calming skills? We’ve developed a Free Calming Techniques guide that you can download here! This printable guide takes many of the points discussed in this article and puts them in an easy-to-follow format so you can refer to it whenever you need. We hope you’ll take a look and give it a try!
At FCI, we love sharing our favorite books with clients & families, which is why we are so grateful to work with Bookshop to share books with you! This week, we recommend “Frustrated Ninja: A Social, Emotional Children’s Book about Managing Hot Emotions.” This book is a great way to teach younger children how to recognize the signs of frustration, and learn how to work through it. If you make any purchase at Bookshop within 48 hours of using our links above, we receive 10% of your purchase, which we use to buy more books to use in session with our kiddos. It’s a win-win!