It’s 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning as I write this. Somehow, I find myself sandwiched onto a yellow school bus with a high school marching band en route to a competition. As a chaperone, hidden somewhere amidst the hanging garment bags, I am getting a firsthand glimpse of the emotional lives of teenagers. We live in a small district, so as I look down the aisle I notice every clique is represented: jocks, cowboys, preppies, bookworms, of course band geeks, and more.
We have giggling girls, boys talking about video games, antisocial kids focusing on their phones, and one misguided male who is threatening to stick his “plume” in an unmentionable spot. As these kids enjoy the chance to visit over the hum of the engine and tires rumbling down the highway, my mind turns to recent research where experts are finding that grades or academic standings aren’t the best predictors for a person’s ability to thrive or succeed. Surprisingly, the secret to success might just be a person’s emotional intelligence.
In fact, developing a child’s emotional intelligence can have immediate and long term benefits. By teaching children to recognize and understand their feelings, we can improve their educational performance, mental health, and social skills while reducing the presence of behavioral and anxiety problems. Glancing around, I can see these findings at work while observing the children interact on the bus.
Unfortunately, emotional intelligence isn’t always taught in schools or at home. As parents, we must challenge ourselves to teach our sons and daughters about their feelings right along with the three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic). After all, it’s the loving thing to do to help set them up for success in life.
For ideas on how to raise an emotionally intelligent child, please scroll through the following 7 tips:
Model healthy emotions and relationships. It’s no secret that our boys and girls learn from our example. However, we need to make sure that we are demonstrating correct methods for handling our emotions, life’s curve balls, and relationships. It is generally a good idea to avoid harsh judgments, yelling, name calling, gossiping, and more in front of children, because they do pick up our vocabulary and beliefs.
Open the lines of communication. Everyday, make it a point to have a conversation with your child. When they are young this isn’t a difficult task. Our youngest sons and daughters eagerly will share anything and everything about their day, but as they age this desire to talk wanes. To keep the dialogue going clear into young adulthood start listening today and avoid lecturing or yelling. Our ultimate goal is to get our children to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, concerns, and feelings with us.
Give emotions a label. To develop emotional intelligence, kids first need to identify and recognize their feelings. This will help children label their emotions and communicate their needs. Teaching kids the correct vocabulary empowers them as individuals, friends, students, partners, and eventually employees or parents.
Teach empathy. Raising emotionally intelligent children often depends on a child’s ability to understand other people’s point of views. This is a life skill that takes time to learn, but empathy has the ability to sustain relationships and form new ones. Start talking about emotions, begin volunteering, and find ways for forming relationships to encourage kids to learn how to see the world from another person’s perspective.
Provide opportunities to help or care for others. When it comes to teaching emotional intelligence, kids need to directly see the impact their actions have on others. Look for ways to volunteer, do kind deeds, or adopt a family pet so children can have plenty of practice to understand emotions.
Teach a child to read body language. It sounds simple, but many children don’t realize that someone can be smiling, but sad on the inside. Even adults struggle with recognizing emotions at times. Discuss nonverbal cues with a child and when you witness body language talk about what frowns, lack of eye contact, fidgeting hands, closed fists, hunched shoulders, and tense muscles might mean. Body language helps us understand another person’s feelings. Far too often people mask their true emotions with words or fake smiles.
Use literature as a tool to teach emotional intelligence. Tap into the powerful resources of books, movies, and music to help our kids discover the world of emotions vicariously through the eyes of a character. Find materials that address different perspectives, overcoming adversity, teach social skills, and touch on emotions. This is also a great way to talk about inappropriate and appropriate behaviors.
What tips do you have for raising an emotionally intelligent child?
Hilary Smith has writing in her blood and communications on her brain. This yoga enthusiast appreciates a daily workout and loves keeping time with two children. Mother by day, writer by night, Hillary keeps abreast of the latest tech apps as she focuses on digital parenting.