Teaching and Modelling Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is like a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger it gets. But it takes time. And one of the first and most important things to remember as you seek to support your child’s EQ development is that what you do matters even more than what you say. You are your child’s most influential role model, and they’re always paying attention, whether they show it or not.
A good place to begin cultivating children’s emotional intelligence is in high-pressure situations, where EQ skills can be used to facilitate coping. For example, as the holiday season approaches, adults and children alike are faced with the particular challenges of the season, such as disrupted daily routines, chaotic schedules, and the simple overstimulation of so many people, so much noise, and such unrelenting activity.
Taking the time before the holidays arrive to develop a self-care plan with your child is an ideal way to cultivate their EQ. For example, you can work with them to develop a strategy for managing the season’s festivities without becoming overwhelmed. Talk with your child to help them plan for rest breaks. Help them identify times and situations in which they are more likely to feel anxious or upset, and come up with a solution for dealing with those moments. You and your child, for example, might select a quiet room where they can go when they need a break, a calming piece of music that they might listen to, or even a discrete signal that the two of you can privately share to let you know when your child needs some support. In this way, you are helping your child learn to identify, label, and manage their emotions, which is a cornerstone of EQ.
Another important aspect of this is helping your child learn to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is particularly important in combatting anxiety and depression because it requires the person to ground themselves in the present, to focus on both the external environment and internal responses, from feelings to physiology. Through mindfulness, for example, children can learn to notice their breathing and heart rate and to use these to alert themselves to the fact that they may be getting anxious. Once they know how to spot the signs, you can give them tools to help them self-regulate, such as deep breathing exercises or playing with a worry ball or other stress-relieving toy.
Of course, EQ isn’t only concerned with self-care. A high EQ also prioritizes empathy and relationships. And this is, perhaps, where modeling plays an especially important role. Your child doesn’t just need you to teach them how to take care of themselves. They also need to see you taking care of yourself and others. This includes, for example, having open, honest, and age-appropriate conversations with your child about your feelings, including “negative” ones, such as fear or sadness. They should also be able to see you practicing self-care, such as using the “quiet room” yourself when you need it.
In addition, having frequent conversations with your child about other people’s emotions and experiences will help them to develop empathy. For example, allowing your child to see you engage in active listening and small acts of kindness toward others can be a powerful tool for modeling EQ. Likewise, even very young children can begin to learn to practice compassion and to build relationships through sharing and helping activities, from helping Mom feed the dog its breakfast to brushing baby sister’s hair at night.