How can you help your child learn emotional intelligence?
It may seem like a daunting task, but mostly it just requires a consistent and often repetitive process of talking through feelings with your child. The secret lies in taking advantage of emotionally challenging situations that happen in your child’s day.
Why is emotional intelligence important for your child?
Emotional intelligence is a term introduced by psychologist Daniel Goleman. It describes the ability to control, manage and be aware of your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is also the ability to reason and solve problems based on the emotions you experience.
Emotionally intelligent people can understand and control their emotions. They can also understand how their behaviour can influence other people’s feelings. In other words, they are:
- good listeners
- great communicators
Families with siblings are bound to experience fights and arguments. Your child’s level of emotional maturity will influence how s/he reacts when things don't go their way. Emotional Intelligence has a tremendous influence on how your child interacts and relates to their siblings and peers.
How can you turn these emotionally challenging situations into emotionally meaningful experiences ?
1. Talk about your feelings
Talk to your children about feelings, whether they are your own or those of other people. It may help siblings to become more empathic towards each other. Talking about feelings also makes it easier for children to relate to other people's points of view, even when they are different from their own.
Consistent and ‘in the moment’’ conversations about thoughts and feelings with your child will help him/her develop emotional intelligence over time.
Advice: You can start talking about feelings with your child as young as toddler age! Talk about what you think they might be feeling. Reassure your child that s/he is loved as jealousy can often get in the way.
2. Ask questions about feelings, needs, wants and choices
It’s easy to lose your calm when your children are fighting. Adopting a warm and nonjudgmental attitude may help your children calm down as well. A good sense of humour (instead of a lecture) is often found to bring positive results.
Once the fight is over, you can ask your children several questions to encourage them to reflect on their actions:
- How did you feel?
- What did you want/do?
- How did that work out?
- Did you/your brother/sister get what you/he/she wanted?
- How do you think he/she felt?
- Would you do the same thing next time, or do you think you might try something different?
- What do you think you might try?
- What do you think would happen then?
Tip: Listen, nod and make sure you understand the situation from everyone’s point of view. Remember, wise judgment most often develops from a negative experience.
3. Explain and model. Repeat.
Children often fight about whose turn it is to play with a favourite toy. These situations often end up in tears and fights. You can turn them into teachable moments by explaining and modeling what children should say to each other.
For example: “Jake, say to your sister: ‘Excuse me Emma, may I have a turn, please, when you're finished?’’’ Wait for the sibling to repeat your words. Turn to Emma. “Emma, say... ‘Sure, Jake’”.
After a while, you may catch them using the sentences you taught them, on their own.
4. Try to find win-win situations
Every family has its share of differences in opinion, needs and wants. You can practice reaching a compromise so that everybody wins.
For example: You can verbalise the problem: “Hmmm…You want to go to the park and he wants to go to the pool… How can we make both of you happy?” This will encourage your children to think of alternative solutions.
5. Model “I” statements
“I” statements express your needs without judging or attacking the other. Use these statements yourself whenever the children’s behaviour bothers you.
For example: When your child doesn’t want to leave the house you can say: “I feel worried because I want to get there on time and I see that you aren’t ready to leave yet… Please put on your shoes now.”
Tip: ”I” statements follow this simple formula: “I feel______ because I want (or need) _________and I see that _________.”
6. Model a positive behaviour
Your child is more likely to follow your example as opposed to following rules. The adults in a family can model healthy behaviours for the children.
Tip: A fun way to do this is by using role play with your partner. You can teach children the importance of sharing by saying, “There’s only one apple left, shall we split it?”
It might seem that siblings are always fighting or arguing about something. These moments, although unpleasant for parents, are good opportunities to teach children about emotional intelligence.
Your child will develop emotional intelligence over time. You can help your child by engaging her/him in conversations about feelings, thoughts and actions in ‘teachable moments’. Trust your child to internalise your discussions and go forward in life with ever-developing emotional intelligence.