I need to first say that I am NOT a Child Psychologist or an expert in this area. This blog represents my opinion only and is based on my experience and learnings as a parent of siblings who have lost a sibling.
OK… There’s LOADS of books on this subject out there and you can spend hours trying to find something that’s easy and makes sense to implement. Sorry to burst your bubble, but this isn’t an easy or simple topic. Emotional Intelligence – what even it is? It sounds like modern mumbo jumbo (like many things) and that’s just another thing we can feel guilty as parents for not thinking about. But, for me, emotional intelligence is our ability to recognise how we are feeling and how others are feeling and regulate our responses to these feelings. Some call it “reading the room”, but if was that simple we would all exhibit high levels of emotional intelligence as adults, but we don’t. One of the things my corporate career showed me is that everyone, yes everyone, thinks they have high emotional intelligence but this simply isn’t the case, it can’t be because emotional intelligence is something we all learn to do, it’s not an innate ability that we are born with. Yes, some people have a more in-tune personality than others, but most people have to learn this skill.
So, if it’s difficult for us, as adults, imagine how challenging it is for Children. Therefore, building Emotional Intelligence in children needs a slightly different approach to us adults. The great thing about children is that are still learning how to learn, especially our younger kids. But where do we even start? Well, a first step is often just trying help our children name the feelings/ emotions that they and others are feeling. We find a great way is to have a Visual Scale as a tool to help them articulate their feelings in an easy way. This really is an idea for younger children (under 10yo) as teenage children are usually quite good at recognising, and often amplifying their emotions. Anyone with teenagers knows exactly what I mean – what an emotional rollercoaster puberty is. Surviving it feels like a team sport 😊
In our house, we often like to start and finish our day with Emotion Flashcards (you can find lots on the internet, but I’ve included a link below that we often use). I’ve got them printed out and we get the kids to point to how they’re feeling and get them to tell me why they feel that way. Then we do it when they get home, usually before homework time and before the witching hour begins. If their emotions have changed, I ask them why. Especially if they started on the angry/ unhappy side in the morning. I have also seen this work with siblings where one sibling describes what the other sibling(s) are feeling and why they think they are feeling that. This is a way to practice and develop empathy.
As our kids get older, emotional intelligence might look more like empowerment. Open and honest conversations about safety, sexual exploration, drugs etc help teenagers feel like we, their parents and caregivers, are a safe place to come to for ANYTHING. One very important aspect of this (and it’s really hard to do in reality) is to suspend judgement and just listen to them until they’ve finished telling us everything what they wanted to tell. As an example, create an environment that make them comfortable to come to you about their first sexual experience to seek advice and guidance, ideally before the event. If we don’t have these conversations with them, they will have them with someone else and then we have zero influence in that dialogue.
A very important aspect to emotional intelligence in our older kids is their “self-talk”. What are they saying to themselves, about themselves? We are often our worst critics and add uncontrollable hormones into this mix and we have the potential to have kids who don’t have a lot of self-worth or self-belief. Now, I’m not saying to praise them for everything to the point that they think they are the most incredible person on the planet, but we should acknowledge what they are good at and what they enjoy and recognise these areas to help build their confidence about who they are.
It's almost a little easier to build younger kids’ perception of themselves because they haven’t really formed any concrete conclusions about this just yet. Having said that, because of this it actually might be more important to really plan how you intend to build their self-worth in a healthy way. We, associety, tend to tell children that they are good at everything, but this just isn’t possible and one of our jobs as parents is to teach resilience so that they can survive in the world when it’s time to “fly the nest”. So, I think, we need to be honest with them. Focus on what they are good at AND enjoy and this becomes a much easier task.
Practising Emotional Intelligence, at any age, allows us to deepen our social skills. Think about someone you really enjoy spending time with and I bet that this person shows an interest and understanding in you. We don’t tend to gravitate to people that are only interested in themselves or something completely irrelevant to you. These people, and there’s plenty of them, are often socially awkward and reserved. Now, this can be due to lots of factors. Physiological diagnoses, feeling of intimidation and irrelevance, social anxiety – the list goes on. Really Emotionally intelligent people can often be a godsend for these people as they can, often, pick up the social cues that this person isn’t comfortable or enjoying themselves and can extend an “olive branch” to help this person engage more meaningfully into conversations and interactions.
One really great “side effect” of highly developed emotional intelligence in children is that they have the ability to predict their behaviour in certain situations and this might prevent anger or saying the wrong thing. Knowing what their triggers are they may be able to avoid them or, at the very least, minimise or control their interactions with these triggers. This can be a really effective way of protecting yourself and others from anything that might upset you. This is a skill that is learnt and practised as we age, but children don’t have the luxury or benefit of this, so we, as their parents or caregivers, need to help them navigate these “big emotions”, many experts will advise us that one of the best ways, if not the best way, is to model this behaviour. Talking openly about how they (and others) are feeling and get them used to articulating these emotions and is a great way to help build emotional intelligence in children.
If you’re still reading this, you’re probably either overwhelmed or just think this is easy and just common sense. Either way, even if we just try one or two of these things to see if it makes their responses to difficult situations more constructive, it might be a good tool or skill to sharpen. In doing my research for this blog, I read that if we, parents/caregiver, are going to try something new with our children, like practising a new skill to help them better recognise their responses, then talk openly to them about it. Show your vulnerability that says to our kids “I’m still learning and that’s ok, maybe we can learn this skill together”. This is a simple way to model being able to honest and open about situations and show them that they can come to us for help, just as you have come to them.
I truly believe there’s no right or wrong way to parent! No one knows or loves our kids like we do, so the RIGHT WAY is yours/ ours and I think it really is as simple as that. Yes, we can try and do better but you don’t want to try replicate a parental method/style if it doesn’t sit well with you. We are all just trying to get through some days, and the days may feel long but holy moly don’t the years fly by. I feel like it was only 5 minutes ago I was changing nappies and now I’m doing school drop offs for them both.
Be kind to yourself, show our kids how to love themselves, give themselves a break and how to have fun! We’ve got this! And if all else fails, I recommend Margaritas LOL