In adults, emotional intelligence — the ability to understand and manage emotions — can help in social interactions and is even linked to varying degrees of success.
What about children? It can be difficult to understand, but many educators suggest that young children should be taught the basic concepts of emotional intelligence to prepare them for their future.
“Children’s effective use of emotions enables them to control their instinctive reactions in stressful conditions, to learn to better communicate their emotional state, to develop healthy relationships with family and friends, and to become successful in school, work and life,” (Elias & Weisberg, 2000; Elias et al., 1997; Payton et al., 2000).
The key components of emotional intelligence are motivation, self-regulation, self-awareness, social skills, and empathy. In children and adults, each component can be assessed and the skills improved to promote growth in our emotional intelligence.
Research has shown that children who are emotionally intelligent do better in both school and work. Skills such as communication and coping with stress are becoming highly sought-after traits in the workforce. Emotionally intelligent people are better able to cope with difficult situations and people while performing at a highly successful rate both at work and in school.
Emotional intelligence does not only involve the emotions of a child. It also involves the emotions of others in a child’s life. By gaining emotional intelligence, they can understand how others are feeling and can improve the quality of their social interactions.
Emotional intelligence helps the child relate to those around them — a skill needed for their entire life.
The first step is to help them name the emotion they are feeling. Rather than suppress or ignore anger, frustration, over-the-top joy, etc., ask the child how they are feeling. When a child is helped to realize they are experiencing an emotion and what exactly it is, they begin to identify and acknowledge their feelings.
After the child practices identifying feelings and emotions, ask some questions such as “What was the happiest moment of today?” Both children and adults experience a wide range of emotions throughout the day, and a question like this will help them reflect, recognize, and become aware of them.
The last thing to do to help teach a child to recognize and understand their emotions as well as others’ emotions is to lead by example. A parent should explain to their child how the parent feels and why, to show them how to recognize emotions — both positive and negative — and deal with them in a healthy manner.
Michelle Dell’Aquila is a licensed therapist and the Director of Child Development Advice – an educational consulting agency.