5 Steps to Nurture Emotional Intelligence in Your Child

So, you want to raise an emotionally intelligent child and you’re wondering where to begin? Start with these five steps.

1. Acknowledge your child’s perspective and empathize

Even if you can’t “do anything” about your child’s upsets, empathize. Just being understood helps humans let go of troubling emotions. If your child’s upset seems out of proportion to the situation, remember that we all store up emotions and then let ourselves experience them once we find a safe haven. Then we’re free to move on.

Empathizing doesn’t mean you agree, just that you see it from his side, too. He may have to do what you say, but he’s entitled to his own perspective. We all know how good it feels to have our position acknowledged; somehow it just makes it easier when we don’t get our way.

2. Allow expression

Little ones can’t differentiate between their emotions and their “selves.” Accept your child’s emotions, rather than denying or minimizing them, which gives children the message that some feelings are shameful or unacceptable.

Disapproving of her fear or anger won’t stop her from having those feelings, but it may well force her to repress them. Unfortunately, repressed feelings don’t fade away, as feelings do that have been freely expressed. They’re trapped and looking for a way out. Because they aren’t under conscious control, they pop out unmodulated, when a child socks her sister, has nightmares, or develops a nervous tic.

Instead, teach that the full range of feelings is understandable and part of being human, even while some actions must be limited.

3. Listen to your child’s feelings.

Remember, rage doesn’t begin to dissipate until it feels heard. Whether your child is 6 months or sixteen, she needs you to listen to the feelings she’s expressing. Once she feels and expresses them, she’ll let them go and get on with her life. In fact, you’ll be amazed at how affectionate and cooperative she’ll be once she has a chance to show you how she feels.

But to feel safe letting those feelings up and out, she needs to know you’re fully present and listening. Assured that it is safe, children have an amazing ability to let their feelings wash over and out, leaving them relaxed and cooperative. Your job? Breathe through it, stay present, and resist the urge to make those troublesome feelings go away. Your child instinctively knows how to heal herself.

4. Teach problem solving

Emotions are messages, not mud for wallowing. Teach your child to breathe through them, feel them, tolerate them without needing to act on them, and, once they aren’t in the grip of strong emotion, to problem-solve and act if necessary.

Most of the time, once kids (and adults) feel their emotions are understood and accepted, the feelings lose their charge and begin to dissipate. This leaves an opening for problem solving. Sometimes, kids can do this themselves. Sometimes, they need your help to brainstorm. But resist the urge to rush in and handle the problem for them unless they ask you to; that gives him the message that you don’t have confidence in his ability to handle it himself.

5. Play it out

When you notice a negative pattern developing, recognize that your child has some big feelings she doesn’t know how to handle, and step in with the best medicine: Play. For instance:

For instance, maybe your four-year-old always wants Mommy. Instead of taking it personally, help him work through his feelings about how much he prefers Mom by playing a game where poor bumbling Dad “tries” unsuccessfully to keep him away from her. Dad gets between Mom and son, and roars “I won’t let you get to Mom….Hey, you just ran right around me!…You pushed me right over!…You are too strong!….But this time you won’t get past me!”

Your four-year-old will giggle and boast and get a chance to prove he can ALWAYS have his mom. He’ll also discharge all those pent-up worries that make him demand her.

For more information about the importance of childhood development, or to book a consultation, contact Anel Annandale at 083 711 5267 or via email at anel@childpsych.co.za.

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