Emotional Intelligence in Young Children
Rachel Haley, M.Ed.   •   October 3, 2022

There are many types of intelligence: spatial, kinesthetic, linguistic, musical, logical, intrapersonal, and emotional. While for some, people are born with a certain amount of skill in a type of intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is one that children can learn and improve as they grow, rather than simply just “born with.”

            October is national “Emotional Intelligence Month.” Emotional Intelligence is defined as the ability to identify and control one’s emotions and empathy for others. When it comes to guiding the development of a child’s emotions, there is a no bigger influence than their guardians at home. Everyday interactions, and responses to those interactions, help mold and shape the way children respond emotionally.

            Children deal with BIG emotions every day as they learn to navigate their feelings. While preschool teachers should teach children about emotions, it really is a parent’s (or home guardian’s) job to help their child identify the emotions that they feel and guide them in how to manage them. Instead of discarding an emotion in a situation, working through each emotion is the healthiest way to continually build emotional intelligence.

Here are some suggestions on how you can help build emotional intelligence in your child at home:

  • Accept your child’s emotions-
    Instead of dismissing or reacting negatively to your child’s emotions, understand that they are reacting in the only way they know how based on their prior experiences in similar circumstances. Try your best at that moment to not diminish, or amp up, the emotion but simply accept it as the starting point of a conversation to help guide your child through what they are feeling.
  • Have a conversation-
    Begin a conversation by asking open-ended questions about what is going on and HOW your child is feeling. Many times, a child responds in a particular way because they are unaware of what they are feeling. This is a moment to build a connection with your child versus judging how they are acting or feeling. Try restating what they said to make sure you got it right. Ask questions such as “what I am hearing you say is…” or It sounds like… is this right?” This will give your child a chance to confirm you are on the right track with what THEY think is happening.
  • Validate their feelings-
     Let your child know that what they are feeling is ok. Validating feelings lets them know that emotions are something we don’t hide from or dismiss, but ultimately work through to increase our emotional intelligence.
  • Identify the emotion-
     At the end of the conversation about an emotional situation, many times your child may still not have identified WHAT emotion they just experienced. The primary emotions of fear, anger, sadness, surprise, love, and joy can be easier to identify, but your young child may be struggling with more complex emotions such as jealousy or nervousness. If in the conversation your child didn’t identify the emotion, let them know what emotion they just experienced. This helps them with emotional vocabulary that they can use to express themselves next time. To learn more about how to label emotions, visit sites such as https://www.thejuntoinstitute.com/emotion-wheels/.
  • Moving Forward- 
  • After identifying the emotion that your child is experiencing, talk about how they should act or what they could do differently next time. By explaining what should happen when your child has a certain emotion, you are giving them the tools to potentially change the reaction next time. It will probably take practice, but through repetition, you can help mold how your child will respond emotionally in the future!
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