How to Model Emotional Intelligence for Children
Every parent or caregiver wants their child to grow up healthy, happy, and successful. And in trying to bring that all-important goal to fruition, we tend to focus heavily on education, equipping kids with the knowledge and skills they need to build a secure, stable, and prosperous life. But raising healthy and successful children is about far more than cultivating their intelligence quotient (IQ). It’s also about nurturing their emotional intelligence quotient (EQ). And that comes both from what you teach your children and what you model for them.
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence
Children aren’t born with a natural ability to understand their emotions, let alone the knowledge to process and express them. In fact, emotional intelligence refers to a set of specialized skills that many of us enter adulthood never having completely mastered. Emotional intelligence involves self-awareness, emotional regulation, self-expression, active listening, empathy, and problem-solving.
Each of these skills, fundamentally, links to the individual’s ability to nurture both their own well-being and the well-being of others. Helping children to cultivate these skills early facilitates habits that serve young ones well across all domains of life, from their relationships with peers to their experiences at school and the way they function at home.
But it’s not only in childhood that emotional intelligence matters. It’s also a critical component of adult success. In higher education and the workplace alike, emotional intelligence helps people balance the myriad challenges of “adulting,” from negotiating the obligations of home, work, and family to navigating the inevitable hopes, fears, and frustrations of adult life. Adults with high EQ, in other words, are more likely to succeed across multiple aspects of life, from pursuing advanced educations to building rewarding careers to sustaining happy families.
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.
Emotional intelligence isn’t just some soft skill that’s nice to have but relatively inessential to life today. Rather, emotional intelligence is fundamental to the well-being of children and adults alike. And that means that teaching and modeling emotional intelligence is a vital responsibility of every parent and caregiver.
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to child development, health and wellness, mindfulness, and productivity. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn