Teaching Emotional Intelligence to Your Kids
Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to perceive, identify, understand, and manage one’s own emotions. You want your kids to have that ability, right? It’s an important life skill, one that’s necessary if your kids will grow to establish and maintain healthy relationships with others. So, how do you teach emotional intelligence to your kids?
1. Lead by example. Control your emotions. That doesn’t mean that you should be without emotion. It means that you should be able to experience and manifest your emotions in a socially appropriate manner. For example, it’s ok to cry when your feelings are hurt, but it’s not ok to yell at the grocery store clerk if her line of customers is moving slowly through check-out. It also means that you should be able to know what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way. You should talk with your kids about this so that they can see your emotional intelligence manifest. For example, you may say, “I’m really busy today, and I’m feeling harried and frustrated. I’m also feeling impatient with this slooooow grocery check-out clerk, but I haven’t seen her here before, so I’m guessing that she’s a new hire. I know I need to be understanding; after all, she’s probably learning a new job, so she’s going to be a little slower at it until she has the job mastered. It’s not fair for me to take out my frustrations on her. I wouldn’t want someone to be upset with me just because they were having a hectic day. That’s not nice. So, I need to work on developing my patience and understanding.”
2. When your kids experience emotions, ask them what they are feeling, what prompts them to feel that way, and what they would like to do about how they are feeling. Note that very young kids will not be able to process their thoughts and feelings as well as more mature children, but have the dialogue with young children anyway as it sets the foundation for subsequent similar conversations that they will be able to engage in more effectively. For example, if you observe 6-year-old Chris acting upset, your dialogue can go like this.
You: Chris, I’ve seen you throw your toys several times now. It seems like you are
lashing out. How are you feeling today?
Chris: I’m mad!
You: Why are you mad?
Chris: Because this stinks!
You: What stinks?
Chris: I don’t like being here!
You: What’s “here”? What part of “here” do you not like?
Chris: Being inside! I want to be outside!
You: Ok, I understand . . . but it’s 14*F outside, and that’s pretty cold. We could put
on your snow suit so that you could go out to play for a little while if you want.
Chris: No! I don’t want to wear my snowsuit!
You: Wouldn’t you freeze outside without your snowsuit?
Chris: I don’t want it to be cold outside!
You: Ok, so you’re upset that it’s so cold outside that you have to be inside.
Chris: Yes! There’s nothing to do in here!
You: Ok, so you’re bored.
You: Ok, what would you like to do?
You: Well, you’re already doing that, and you don’t seem to like doing it. Would you like to read a book together? Play a board game with me? Shall we bake cookies together?
You: Well, ok. I get that you are angry because you are bored. You want to do something fun, but you don’t know exactly what you want to do. I’ve given you several options, but they’re not quite right, I guess. So, here’s what I need of you: I need you to sit quietly and think about what you want. I know you don’t really want to be angry all day, so I know that you’ll come up with a few good ideas during your thinking time. I’ll come back in about 15 minutes and hopefully we can discuss some fun ideas then. Until then, though, please don’t throw things or act angry, honey. It’s not our fault that it’s cold outside. We’d love to do something fun for the whole family today. It would be great if you could come up with a short list of fun ideas. I love you, and I’ll see you in about 15 minutes.
In this example, you can see that Chris could correctly identify the emotion being experienced (“I’m mad!), but Chris struggled to identify its causation (boredom, or feeling denied a desired opportunity to do something fun). Once the causation was identified, Chris also struggled with managing the anger (i.e., letting go of the anger and embracing resolution by seeking to remove the causal factor–creating fun things to do). As Chris ages, and this conversation is repeated in a variety of circumstances over the years, Chris will get better at identifying causation and managing emotion.
By following this process, you can teach emotional intelligence to your kids.