6 Ways to Nurture Your Kids With Emotional Intelligence

6 Ways to Nurture Your Kids With Emotional Intelligence

Here’s why emotional intelligence helps kids grow into happier, healthier adults.

By Laurie Sue Brockway

We’ve all heard the term “emotional intelligence” (also known as EI and EQ), but what does it really mean? “It is the ability to recognize and manage our emotions and the emotions of those around us in our environment,” explains emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutschendorf, author of The Other Kind of Smart.

According to Deutschendorf, there is a great deal of research that shows emotional intelligence helps in all areas of life and, like any skill, it can be taught to children. “Being able to relate to and get along with others will determine how successful, happy, and fulfilled their lives will be as adults,” he says. “It is much easier to teach this to children early, so that they grow up to be healthy, well-functioning adults.”

Kids who do not have those skills may run the gamut of difficulties from being bullied to being reactive and aggressive, because they are unable to regulate their emotions or deal with frustration in social situations.

Here, experts describe what parents need to know about nurturing their children with emotional intelligence.

1. Parents need to learn, first. “For a child to become emotionally intelligent, first, the parents must become emotionally intelligent,” says Carolyn Esparza, a therapist who has worked with troubled families in the prison system. “In families where members are not in tune with their own emotions, members react, rather than thoughtfully respond, to the world around them.”

2. Begin teaching in infancy. Babies develop these skills based on how they are treated. “The child develops emotional health by interacting successfully with others, especially the parents,” says Wanda Draper, PhD, a child development specialist. “When a baby has a close bond and attachment with the parent, emotional intelligence emerges and flourishes naturally. For example, when the baby feels hungry or thirsty, wet, in pain, or in need of being held and cuddled, the baby cries to let these feelings be known. As the parent responds by meeting the baby’s needs, feelings are settled and emotions are regulated. Both parent and baby can relax.”

3. Let kids express feelings. Help children learn by allowing outbursts and giving them permission to express feelings, while still maintaining order. Draper suggests addressing an older child who’s throwing a tantrum with a statement like, “Go ahead and have your tantrum. I can see you are really angry. When you finish we can solve this problem, but I’m not going to watch you while you are so upset.” She says the parent must then turn away and let the child get the feelings out.

“Parents and children develop trust in each other when the child has had a firm foundation of emotion regulation, because the child knows the parent cares and the child can let go of any fear of rejection or abuse,” she says.

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4. Teach them empathy. “One of the major components of EQ is empathy,” explains psychologist Max Wachtel, PhD, author of The One Rule For Boys. “Many people get empathy confused with sympathy or compassion, but it is a very different concept. Empathy is the intellectual ability to understand why people feel the way they feel or behave the way they do.” Be aware, however, some kids can have too much empathy for others and may need to balance it with more awareness of their own needs in any given situation.

5. Make it as important as academics. Real success includes being emotionally and socially tuned in. “While academics are important for learning skills needed in the workplace and functioning in society, they are not enough,” says Deutschendorf. “We all know highly gifted, technically brilliant people who struggle in life due to their inability to develop healthy relationships with others -- there is an absence of the ability to connect and engage.”

6. Help kids become extraordinary. Encouraging kids toward emotional intelligence allows them to shine. “Everyone has feelings and most adults have simply learned to suppress or ignore them,” say Sherlyn Pang Luedtke, founder of Present Parent Training. “However, adults are truly exceptional when literate and skillful in discerning feelings and needs. These are the people you know, like, and trust because they make you feel acknowledged, important, and understood. They are very rare.”

EQ pays off in years to come when our children head off to college, jobs, and long-term relationships. “In the workplace, IQ gets you hired, but EQ gets you promoted,” surmises Don MacMannis, PhD, clinical director of the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara.

But you’ll see the payoff for supporting your child’s emotional intelligence sooner rather than later.Parents and teachers nationwide are overwhelmed with problems of young children being rude, irresponsible, teased, bullied, shy, or unable to tolerate frustration,” says MacMannis. The answer, he says, is to teach emotional and social intelligence as part of life’s curriculum.

How have you taught your children emotional intelligence?

Laurie Sue Brockway is a journalist and author who has written extensively on love, marriage, parenting, wellbeing, and emotional health. Her work has appeared in hundreds of print and online publications, including Everyday Health and The Huffington Post.

Image ©iStock.com/pashyksv

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