Emotional intelligence (EI) is a hot topic these days and the focus of more than a few parenting books and articles. With only so many hours in the day, if you have or work with children, it can be hard to process all the latest findings on EI, much less to apply them to everyday life.
This single topic happens to be my passion though, so allow me to bottom line some of the more compelling findings for you along with 5 ways you can pull these findings into life when it comes to helping children grow their emotional intelligence.
Let’s start with the findings:
- Emotional intelligence is important. Like the key to happiness and success in life level of importance. (read more)
- We teach emotional intelligence when we model it. (read more)
- When it comes to teaching children, play is learning. (read more)
Okay, so now with hours of reading reports and journals aside (you’re welcome) you can direct your attention to the best part of all the recent attention EI is enjoying --- the practical applications.
How can we as adults, parents, educators, grandparents and more, nurture emotional intelligence in children? And more than that, how can we make this learning fun? Here are 5 ways you can begin to put into practice today:
- Unstructured playime. I said “fun” and then lead the list off with this?! Yes, but hear me out. When children are given ample unstructured playtime, particularly when that playtime happens alongside siblings and/or friends, they are faced with countless opportunities to practice the four components of EI, namely their social skills, self-awareness, awareness of others, and finally, their ability to care for themselves. Unstructured playtime is also a great time for kids to practice conflict resolution. Playing “house” or building a tiny world with blocks is more than just loads of fun—it helps kid form vital connections in their brain, connections that lead to not only classically smarter kids, but more mindful, empathetic and compassionate children as well.
- Playing games. In the words of parenting expert Dr. Daniel Siegel, you’ve got to “name it to tame it.” Playing board games and card games designed to encourage children to share their ideas and feelings is a great way to nurture EI. A few minutes each morning or at the end of the day spent playing a game like PeaceMakers can make practicing social and emotional skills as enjoyable as say, hiding kale in your smoothies makes eating your greens. Playing games gives children the opportunity to practice taking turns, cooperating, expressing themselves and more, and in the words of someone far wiser than I, "Play is the highest form of research." -Einstein.
- Talk about feelings in everyday life. When reading a book or watching a movie, pause every now and then to talk about the main characters’ feelings. Ask children what they think a character might be feeling and why. Encourage them to imagine what it might feel like to be in the character’s shoes.
- Model emotional intelligence. Kids develop a strong awareness of feelings early on, so when you’re experiencing a strong emotion around them, instead of attempting to hide it, call it out, name it and explain why you think you might be feeling this way. For example, if you’re feeling frustrated you might say, “I'm feeling frustrated! I asked people to pick up their shoes and I feel like no one is listening.” instead of putting those feelings on others by saying, “Why doesn't anyone ever listen around here?! You make me so frustrated.” (HINT: Blaming others for your emotions is generally frowned upon in the world of EI.) If the mood in your home feels totally different on a playful Saturday afternoon versus a hectic morning before school, taking a few moments to point out this difference can actually grow a child’s EI.
- Encourage introspection and self-expression. The next time a child shows you a Play-doh creation or painting they've just completed, instead of replying with a pat answer like, “Awesome!” or “That’s so pretty!” ask them to share their thoughts and feelings about their creation with you. You might say, “Wow! You used so many different colors. Can you tell me about your picture?” or, “Thank you for showing me this! What is your favorite part?” or, “You look so happy. Did you have fun making this? Was it easy to do, hard to do?” etc. The list of possible questions is endless. Children will then be allowed the valuable experience of self-reflection and sharing, with you as their attentive and supportive audience. This opportunity to talk might even create an opening for them to share about something completely unrelated that is weighing on their mind.
By practicing the many components of emotional intelligence with children on a daily basis, we teach children that emotions aren’t something to shy away from or to be scared of.
While teaching EI can feel like a heavy responsibility while we ourselves are working to do the same, let go of thinking you need to be "perfect" in regulating your emotions in order to teach EI, and focus instead on being present to them. Find yourself reacting to something or another, raising your voice to your children more than you would like? When you catch yourself, say, "I'm sorry I just yelled, I'm feeling really overwhelmed." and feel good knowing that not only are you practicing and thereby modeling self awareness, but you are teaching your child about forgiveness and the all important life lesson that our mistakes can help us learn and grow.
"Our mistakes can help us learn and grow."
And there are few more important lessons in life than this.
Mom of four, author and parent educator Suzanne Tucker is the founder of Generation Mindful, a line of educational tools, toys and programs committed to connecting the generations playfully and nurturing the human spirit.