How to raise an emotionally intelligent child

How to raise an emotionally intelligent child

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Toddlers bring new meaning to the word "mercurial." One moment your child is running around full of glee, and the next he's crying in utter frustration and hurling toys across the room.

Experts believe that these childhood meltdowns are actually important opportunities for teaching your child how to manage strong feelings and calm himself down at an early age – when he's making leaps and bounds in his emotional growth. And the secure circle of the family is the first and best place to teach these life lessons.

When you help your child understand and handle overwhelming feelings such as anger, frustration, or confusion, you develop his emotional intelligence quotient, or emotional IQ. A child with a high emotional IQ is better able to cope with his feelings, can bring himself down from emotionally intense situations, understands and relates well to others, and can form strong friendships more easily than a child with a lower emotional IQ.

Experts have emphasized the importance of a high emotional IQ in helping children become confident, responsible, and successful adults who navigate interpersonal relationships skillfully.

How can you help your child develop a healthy emotional IQ? Here are the basics:


Sometimes all your child needs is to be heard. And once he has expressed his feelings, he can move on. But in order to feel safe sharing his feelings, he needs to know that you're fully present and listening. Resist the urge to try to help him feel better right away, and just listen as patiently as possible instead.

Name feelings

Toddlers have a limited vocabulary and only a rudimentary understanding of cause and effect, so they often have trouble describing what they feel. Encourage your child to build an emotional vocabulary by giving her labels for her feelings as you mirror them back to her. If she seems disappointed about not being able to go to the park, you might say, "You feel sad about that, don't you?"

You can also let her know that it's normal to have conflicting emotions about something. For instance, she may be both excited and scared during her first week at daycare.

Validate emotions

Instead of telling your child there's no reason to get upset when he throws a tantrum because he's unable to put together a puzzle, acknowledge how natural his reaction is. Say, "It's really frustrating when you can't finish a puzzle, isn't it?"

If he's angry because you're not paying attention to him, you can say, "I know it's hard for you when I'm giving my attention to the baby. You wish you could have me all to yourself, don't you?"

By mirroring his feelings and letting him know that they're appropriate, you're modeling empathy. And you're encouraging him to continue sharing his feelings with you.

The important thing is to accept your child's feelings, rather than showing disapproval. If he senses you disapprove, he'll learn that his negative emotions are shameful, and only pleasant ones are acceptable. Then, instead of learning appropriate ways to express and regulate unpleasant emotions, he'll repress them. Those squelched feelings may come out in unconscious ways, such as nightmares or aggressive behavior.

Use tantrums as teachable moments

Emotional drama is normal for toddlers, and you can use these outbursts as opportunities to help your child learn how to manage big feelings. If your child erupts at a store because you won't buy her a treat at the checkout stand, validate her feelings first: "I know you're disappointed and angry, but we are not getting candy today." Once the storm has passed, have a brief conversation with her and help her name how she felt.

If she gets upset when she finds out she has a doctor's appointment, help her feel in control by preparing for the visit. Talk with her about why she's afraid, what she can expect during the visit, and why she needs to go. Talking through emotions works the same way for children as it does for most adults.

Teach problem-solving

When your toddler gets in a dispute with you or another child, make the limits clear and then guide him toward a solution. For example, you can say, "I know you're upset with your sister for knocking over your block tower, but you can't hit her. What else can you do if you get mad?"

If your child doesn't have any ideas, give him options. Anger management specialist Lynne Namka advises telling your child to first check his tummy, jaw, and fists to see if they're tight, and then demonstrating how to breathe deeply "to blow the mad out." Show him that it feels good to regain control.

Then, Namka suggests, help your child use a strong voice to talk his anger out, beginning with something like, "I feel mad when you yell like that." Children should know that it's okay to be angry as long as they don't hurt others for that reason.

Set a good example

You'll also want to check how you react to your child's display of emotions. It's important not to be verbally harsh when you're angry. Try saying, "It upsets me when you do that," rather than "You make me crazy," so your child understands that the problem is her behavior, not her. Be careful to avoid excessive criticism, which tends to chip away at a child's self-confidence.

Stay in touch with your own feelings too. Some parents ignore their own negative emotions, hoping to spare their children discomfort or difficulty. But hiding your real feelings will only confuse your child. By acknowledging that you're displeased without acting upset, for instance, you show your child that even difficult feelings can be managed.

Keep sharing

As your toddler gets older, it may help to relate his feelings to other people's experiences, including your own. If he's scared about starting preschool, for example, you can tell him how nervous you were when you started a new job and how a friend helped you feel better. When he's envious of his sibling, tell him about a time you felt left out because your sibling got something special and what made you feel better.

Look for books, songs, stories, and games that relate to his experience. (Some great options for toddlers include the picture book Llama Llama Mad at Mama and the app Daniel Tiger's Grr-ific Feelings.) When you watch a show together, talk about what the characters might be feeling. He'll learn that he's not alone, and that there are many healthy ways to manage feelings.

Watch the video: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. Dr. John Gottman (June 2022).


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