Emotional intelligence is essentially the ability to identify and manage your emotions, as well as being sensitive to the emotions of others. It is an important factor in how we engage with others and how we feel about ourselves.
Obviously, emotional intelligence can play a big role in the success of our relationships and social interactions. It can mean the difference between behaving and reacting appropriately and being socially unacceptable. For this reason, it can have a big impact on children as they navigate peer dynamics and try to build friendships.
Internationally renowned psychologist David Goleman has researched and written extensively on how emotional intelligence can help children improve their self-awareness and confidence through their ability to manage their emotions and impulses. He also states that increased empathy can improve behaviour as well as academic achievement.
Goleman states there are five components of emotional intelligence:
- Self-awareness – Knowing our own emotions.
- Self-regulation – Being able to regulate and control how we react to our emotions.
- Internal motivation – Having a sense of what’s important in life.
- Empathy – Understanding the emotions of others.
- Social skills – Being able to build social connections.
While some children are naturally more in-tune with their feelings and those of the people around them, it is a skill that many children need to learn and develop.
We can help our children develop their emotional intelligence in a number of ways:
Model emotional intelligence
If we are unable to control our emotions and reactions, it is unfair to expect our children to do it. By talking about our emotions, acknowledging we make mistakes and modelling healthy emotional behaviours, our children will follow our lead.
Help them identify and work through their feelings
Telling our children not to cry or that they shouldn’t feel a certain way is likely to teach them that their feelings aren’t valid or should be repressed. When your child is experiencing “big emotions” help them identify and name them. “I know you feel frustrated about…” or “It’s ok to be sad about…” Then help them express those emotions in a healthy way. Drawing pictures can be helpful for small children. Doing something active or conversely, having some quiet time to regroup can also be good to help kids work through their emotions.
Teach social responsibility
Children need to learn that they are part of something bigger than themselves. This could be their role in the family or the classroom, or even the wider community. Teaching them that how they act and interact with others impacts their social environment is important. Things like respecting other’s feelings, ideas and property, cleaning up after themselves and contributing in a meaningful way are all ways children can be socially responsible.