10 Tips For Teaching Emotional Intelligence

By Catherine Baker, PhD, BCBA-D

Helping your child to develop emotional intelligence is so important. These skills and abilities allow kids to navigate their lives with greater ease, confidence, and enjoyment, both at home and at school. These skills are also correlated with greater success in life. Thankfully, skills related to emotional intelligence can be taught, honed, and strengthened. The Positive Parenting Institute Members group is a great way for parents to learn about these strategies in more depth. We also teach children about emotional intelligence in our boot camp groups on coping strategies for children with ADHD. In the meantime, here are some quick tips to help you begin to help your child to sharpen these tremendously valuable qualities: 

1. TEACH THE VALUE 

Start by teaching your child about the importance of emotional stability, resiliency, and intelligence through having conversations about these topics. Redefine struggles as opportunities to learn and grow. Talk with your child about the fact that challenges and problems will arise in life, all the time, but it’s how we handle those problems that matter most. We can make things worse or better depending on our reactions. Talk through examples of this when you encounter them – perhaps through books that you read together or through challenges characters encounter in movies or on tv. How do they handle their problems? Did their reaction help or hurt the situation? Did it make them feel better or worse? Teaching the importance of emotional intelligence comes first. Be sure your child understands that learning these skills is a process and that it can make a big difference in how easily they navigate the ups and downs of life.  

2. ASSESS CURRENT STRENGTHS AND AREAS OF NEED 

Take some time to assess your child’s current strengths and challenges when it comes to emotional intelligence. Perhaps they have great leadership and communication skills, but their ability to problem solve or deal with disappointments could use some work. Taking some time to consider your child’s current abilities when it comes to skills related to emotional intelligence is a critical step in the process. 

3. SET GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS THAT ARE APPROPRIATE FOR LEVEL AND AGE 

Different kids are capable of different things at different times in their lives. It’s unreasonable to expect a two-year-old to be able to tie their shoes, for example, whereas most seven-year-olds are ready to tackle the skill. The same principle applies to social and emotional skill work. It’s essential to set expectations and goals that your child can achieve. Also, it’s helpful to break these goals down into smaller steps in order to facilitate solid and meaningful progress along the way.  

4. TEACH THEM TO RECOGNIZE KEY PHYSIOLOGICAL SIGNS 

When it comes to regulating negative emotions, self-awareness is one of the most important skills kids can develop. If they can learn to recognize the physiological signs of anger, frustration, or other feelings that might cause them to react, they’ll be better able to apply coping strategies to help turn things around. Talk about these physiological signs when your child is feeling calm. Through careful conversation, they can learn to recognize that when their heart begins to race or their palms begin to sweat, for example, they’re experiencing the rise of a challenging emotion.  

5. TEACH CALMING STRATEGIES WHEN CALM 

When a child is emotionally charged, either positively or negatively, their brain is not in the optimal state for learning. This is a big part of the foundation of the positive parenting philosophy. When kids are calm, they actually learn skills faster and more fluently than when they’re aggravated. Therefore, you always want to teach calming techniques and strategies when your child is at their best because they’re more capable of learning them during this time. Also, you’ll want to go over the self-regulatory techniques often to help build the skill. 

6. LEARN MULTIPLE STRATEGIES/TECHNIQUES

It’s important to teach multiple calming strategies, not just one. Different people will gravitate toward different techniques. So, it helps to expose your child to a handful of options to pick and choose from. There are so many fantastic strategies, like progressive muscle relaxation, that are taught through our programming. Also, techniques like deep breathing, taking a walk, or just spending some time with an animal, can be really helpful. 

7. REMIND THEM OF CALMING STRATEGIES 

Once your child has gotten closer to mastering the skill of self-regulation through applying coping strategies, you can prompt them to use what they’ve learned when you see that they’re starting to get frustrated but not once the negative emotion is peaking. When they start to get escalated you can point out – “hey, your face is a bit red. You might be frustrated. Use a calming strategy.” The key here is to do the teaching ahead of time. Catching those physiological cues is so important. Over time, your child will learn to recognize those signs more quickly and they may even start to apply calming strategies without your provocation.  

8. MODEL IT 

It’s helpful if you model how to apply some of these techniques yourself. (This is true for almost everything when it comes to parenting, as you likely already know. It helps to model whatever it is you want your child to do. If you don’t want your child to lose their temper, but you lose yours, you’re sending a mixed message.) 

Model the ways in which emotional intelligence helps you to navigate problems more smoothly. You can do this by walking your child through how you problem-solve with emotional intelligence. “I’m getting really frustrated right now because this garbage disposal is clogged. But, I know that if I let myself get all upset, I’m going to have a harder time solving the problem. So, I’m going to stand here and take a couple of deep breathes, and then I’m going to look under the sink to try to figure it out.” Share your internal dialogue a bit, and discuss how you apply your own coping strategies when negative emotions pop up.    

9. ACKNOWLEDGE AND REWARD PROGRESS ALONG THE WAY

It’s essential to celebrate accomplishments as you help your child through the process of improving their resiliency and emotional intelligence. Reward them in any way you see fit. Just be sure to talk through what they did right and how proud you are of them. Be sure to emphasize how the progress benefited them internally too. Ask your child to talk about how much easier it was to navigate the challenge when they stayed calm. Prompt them to process and understand how these skills make their life a little easier and more fun too. 

10. BE CONSISTENT 

As with just about everything in parenting, it’s so important to be consistent. If your child sees that if they get mad enough you’ll give in, even if it only works once, they’ll do it again and again. So, make being consistent a top priority. This requires your time, energy, and patience. But, the rewards are well worth all the efforts.  

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