The importance of developing Emotional Intelligence in children… and in adults.

By Leonela Mora and Fernando Restoy

In today’s world, teaching Emotional Intelligence to kids is as important as teaching reading, writing, math, and science. To prepare our future generation, we need to help future adults to understand their emotions and learn how to effectively navigate them early in life. Emotional Intelligence is an essential skill that is not taught often enough or in practical ways in the classroom; yet, it is what will help our kids adapt and succeed in the real world. Our kids need to be taught how to pay attention to their bodies’ and brains’ responses to different events. Knowing these things will allow them to prepare for stressful situations. Every day we hear of more cases of bullying, low self-esteem, and suicide. Teaching our kids Emotional Intelligence practices will help them to navigate their own emotions when it matters most, helping to attenuate the struggles they face.

There are small things parents can do every day to improve a child’s Emotional Intelligence. Parents can ask their kids questions and guide them in making choices about how they respond to different situations. Normally, we say things like “How was your day?” Instead, try asking them, “How do you feel?” and “Why do you feel this way?” increasing their emotional granularity and ability to articulate what they are feeling. If your child is reluctant to talk about their feelings, give them a journal and encourage them to write down or draw their feelings. It is particularly important for kids to identify and articulate the emotions they are experiencing. Encourage them to share their journal with you so you can guide them in choosing ways to respond to difficult situations and challenges.

Below are some other suggestions to help kids understand how they are feeling to manage their emotions more effectively:

· Help your child identify and learn to dampen their inner critic or “gremlins” which can arise initially as coping mechanisms. The voice of their inner critic can often undermine confidence and wellbeing, causing a child to instead feel ashamed, criticized, or discouraged. It can take the form of a little voice or negative self-talk telling them they aren’t good enough or that discourages them.

· As a means of combatting these gremlins, kids benefit from being taught practices that equip them to notice their bodies’ reactions to their emotions and to articulate how they are feeling. By expanding their ability to notice and to give voice to those observations, they learn to cultivate an inner voice grounded in self-awareness versus one that reinforces their inner critic.

Kids can also learn to change their negative thought patterns to positive and more reaffirming ones whether it is by employing emotional intelligence strategies or cognitive behavioral ones. By helping kids to notice their own gremlins and reframe what they are experiencing through the observational lens of noticing versus judging, kids can reinforce learning to see their experience through an observational or even positive lens. Then, when a gremlin pays them a visit, they’ll be better equipped to act on one of more of these Emotional Intelligence practices.

As a parent, identify what emotions cause stress in your kids and help them to triage their response:

  1. Requires Action: Calls out to be resolved quickly. Don’t Worry, Just Do It
  2. Requires Clarity: Often involves human relationships. Seek clarity and then act
  3. Requires a New Attitude: Events that you can’t control. Often requires seeing from a larger context

Teach your child to recite this simple mantra, by Angeles Arrien, to help them relax in the moment:

Relax, Relax, Relax.

Breathe, Breathe, Breathe.

This isn’t as important as I think it is.

This isn’t as important as I think it is.

This isn’t as important as I think it is.

Emotional Intelligence helps a child increase their self-awareness and ability to work with their emotions. When a child can better communicate what they are feeling when they are feeling it, it allow them the space to modulate their emotions in difficult situations. Then they can concentrate on learning and being a kid.

If you would like to learn more about how to help your child improve their Emotional Intelligence, please visit Leonela Flourishing.

As much as kids need access to Emotional Intelligence practices, we also need emotionally intelligent adults –especially those involved in childhood development and education, such as parents and teachers- who are in the best position to nurture emotional intelligence in children. Parents and teachers, experience a lot of daily stress that can lead to internal suffering and burnout when it accumulates. Stress can damage the relationship we have with ourselves and with others, including the relationships parents have with their kids and teachers have with their students. A lack of self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, or relationship management leads to emotional dysfunction and hinders us from having fulfilling relationships.

Developing self-awareness and self-management skills help to mitigate burnout from our day-to-day stressors. Other positive side effects include increased satisfaction in our roles as parents and teachers and in our relationships with children, not to mention overall life satisfaction. Finally, adults who develop their Emotional Intelligence contribute to their students’ academic achievement.

What distinguishes an emotionally intelligent parent or a teacher? They:

  • Understand, value, respect, and use their emotions to solve problems and make decisions and help children do the same
  • Know how to regulate their stress and manage their uncomfortable emotions and help children do the same
  • Know how to focus on and use pleasant emotions to teach more efficiently, motivate themselves, and inspire children to learn
  • Understand their capabilities and recognize their strengths and weaknesses while being able to spot and shed light on children’s strengths and areas of improvement
  • Are able to build strong and supportive relationships through trust, respect, and care
  • Empathetically negotiate solutions to conflicts involving children
  • Understand and respect others’ emotions, perspectives, and opinions
  • Set firm but respectful boundaries with children.

During an interview published by EARLY CHILDHOOD TODAY, Daniel Goleman was asked what teachers can do to help develop their students’ emotional intelligence. His answer was the following:

“Teachers need to be comfortable talking about feelings. This is part of teaching emotional literacy – a set of skills we can all develop, including the ability to read, understand, and respond appropriately to one’s own emotions and the emotions of others.”

“Emotional ‘literacy’ implies an expanded responsibility for schools in helping to socialize children. This daunting task requires two major changes: that teachers go beyond their traditional mission and that people in the community become more involved with schools as both active participants in children’s learning and as individual mentors.”

“There is no area where the ability of the teacher matters so much, since how a teacher handles his or her class is a model, a de facto lesson in emotional competence – or lack thereof. Whenever a teacher responds to one student, 20 or 30 others learn a lesson, and these lessons can be useful (for example, learning in the earliest school years to control impulses or recognize feelings). You can teach about the most basic emotions, such as happiness and anger, to the youngest children and later touch on more complicated feelings, such as jealousy, pride, and guilt. The basic premise that children must learn about emotions is that all feelings are okay to have; however, only some reactions are okay.”

Adults who are aware of their own emotions and able to cope with their own stress are better able to pick up on children’s emotions and help them navigate their emotions to achieve a goal or improve their emotional state. They do this by showing them empathic concern. This, in turn, helps emotionally intelligent parents and teachers be more engaged and motivated at work and have an increased sense of job satisfaction and personal accomplishment.

When adults cannot understand their own feelings, regulate their own emotions, manage their own stress, or build healthy relationships with others, they cannot teach children how to do so. Children who talk about emotions with teachers and parents have a better understanding of emotions as compared to children who don’t. Dismissive education, on the other hand, is associated with poor social and emotional skills, and emotional balance.

The Ripple Effect that educators have on the lives of children have broad sweeping impacts across the fabric of our society and the communities that comprise them. Since teachers and parents create one of the most significant ripple effects on our kids’ lives, they too need to develop their own Emotional Intelligence.

Please visit us if you would like to learn more about how to develop your own Emotional Intelligence.

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