Do you want to help your children manage their feelings and grow to be successful, happy adults? Then follow these tips on how to raise an emotionally intelligent child.
Little (and not-so-little) children struggle with big (often scary-feeling) emotions. They can easily feel swamped or flooded when strong emotions surface. This is when they might yell or stomp or sob loudly.
As parents, these moments can be very trying for us. Often, we don’t know what to do. We end up feeling frustrated and wanting to yell (or scream or cry) back at them.
Don’t worry! There are steps you can take to manage the situation, help your child calm down, understand his or her emotions, and develop a strong emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize, identify, and manage your own emotions and also to recognize and identify emotions in others. Having high emotional intelligence is a predictor of future success in school, relationships, and careers.
You can’t impart emotional intelligence with one lesson, but you can follow simple steps that will help you raise an emotionally intelligent child (who will become a highly successful adult!).
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These simple steps will help children of all ages, but you should start as young as possible with your own kids.
Being a calm, patient adult is important when helping very young children. Try to remember that your young child is still learning how to understand, cope with, and manage his or her feelings.
I know it can be very hard to be patient during a moment of intense outburst from your child, but if you can keep in mind that your child is daily learning how to manage emotions and navigate life then it is easier to be patient and understanding with him or her.
Every moment imparts a valuable lesson (and your reaction is one of them!).
Related: Simple tips to become a calm mom
Keep Everyone Safe
When emotions run high, toddlers (and even preschoolers) often resort to hitting or slapping (even though it’s often just a knee-jerk reaction to the situation).
Your first step (while remaining calm and patient!) is to keep everyone safe. If your toddler hits (or is trying to), gently block or move them while stating that hitting is not appropriate. (You may have to repeat this until he or she calms down enough to stop.)
The idea is not to be the brute squad and impose obedience by force, but rather to merely gently stop anyone from getting hurt.
Model calm behavior and reactions
I’ll admit that this is much easier said than done, but while your toddler’s emotions are out of control you need to model calm behavior.
Everything you do is an opportunity for your child to learn (by watching the model: You!) Your child will see you repeatedly being calm (over a long period of time and from many examples) and this will help her to learn to be calm.
Remember your child also learns how to deal with difficult emotions and situations by watching you.
If you tell her not to scream and yell when she’s angry, yet you curse and rage when someone cuts you off in traffic, you’re sending mixed messages and teaching her that angry outbursts are ok sometimes.
Related: How to be a calm mom
Related: Anger management tips for moms
Empathize and Connect
Toddlers (and even young children) feel deeply and can seem offended over hurts and things that might make no sense to you.
No, the blue cup is dirty, you can’t have it right now.
It helps to remember that everyone wants to feel understood. When someone validates your own feelings, you feel relieved and accepted. Simply acknowledging his emotions and empathizing can help him see that you do understand and care, even if you can’t do what he wants.
Yes, it is hard that we can’t go to the park today. I know that makes you feel sad.
Name the Emotions
When your child is calm, simply restate what happened and help him name his emotions. “
Sarah took your toy and you hit her. You didn’t like her taking your toy and that made you feel angry.
This helps children learn to identify and name their feelings.
Generation Mindful has some great tools for helping kids (of all ages!) learn to manage their big emotions.
Talk about appropriate choices
Help your kids understand that all feelings are valid and acceptable, but there are limits to behavior. They might feel angry, but they cannot hit someone.
This shouldn’t be a lengthy lecture, but a simple explanation and an opportunity for you to help them learn how to problem-solve.
Hitting (or pushing) your baby sister is not appropriate – it hurts her. Next time, please ask me to move her out of the way.
I have this phrase memorized! I have often said this to my oldest girl, when her little sister was a baby: “Remember what I told you about pushing?” and then she would calmly say “Mama please move her (the baby) – she’s in my way.”
Just a fair warning – You may have to repeat this numerous times (for the same scenario!) before it sinks in. But, you are building up a mental picture in her brain of what she should do in this situation and eventually it will stick.
I also say (very often): Yelling is not appropriate. If you tell me calmly what you need, I can try to help you.
Related: Calm down tools for kids
It does feel exhausting to keep repeating yourself over and over, but I try to remind myself that my 2 girls are still so young (ages 4 and 2) and constantly learning every day.
All of these steps (especially empathizing, naming emotions, and talking about appropriate choices and behaviors) will help build up emotional intelligence in your child. Remember that emotional intelligence ranks high on the scale of a measure of success for an individual’s life and is connected to a successful career and future.
For a more in-depth discussion on how to help your child develop emotional intelligence, see the book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman.