EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT KIDS
If knowledge is power, then emotional intelligence is the fuel that keeps our system operating. Emotional intelligence is integral to success in every area of life, from education and productivity, to relationships and self-esteem. Emotionally intelligent people have several distinct qualities such as empathy for others, self-awareness and flexible thinking. This gives them unique insight into the complexities of life and makes them more resilient to challenges. The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned. In fact, it begins at a very young age from when our children start to recognise themselves (and their thoughts and feelings) as distinct from those around them.
As caregivers, we have a tremendous opportunity to nurture the way our children develop emotional intelligence as they traverse childhood. And interestingly, it’s our day to day interactions with them that have the most impact. Here are a few ways in which children learn from their surrounds.
Children learn language at a phenomenal rate, including the words that represent the spectrum of human emotions. Over time, the generic descriptions of feeling ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gradually give way to a richer vocabulary such as feeling ‘angry’, ‘excited’, ‘scared’, ‘annoyed’, etc. With a richer vocabulary, children are more precisely able to identify their feelings, which enables specific corrective actions to be taken. for example, when children recognise that they feel ‘frustrated’ (which is due to feeling thwarted in their efforts to accomplish something), they can take specific actions to resolve or remove the roadblock. By contrast, a general description of ‘I feel bad’ is too vague to identify a clear source of action and can leave them (and us) guessing as to how to find a resolution.
2. Be a role model.
Children learn through watching, not by listening. The way we manage our emotions will provide them with a ‘how-to’ guide. If we eat chocolate to deal with frustration, they may learn that eating chocolate is an appropriate solution. Or, they may make the connection between food and emotions and learn to use food (or withdraw from food) to deal with their feelings. This is not to suggest that perfection should be our goal, because I believe it’s important to acknowledge that we’re only human and bound to make errors in judgement. It’s what we consistently do, that matters. Occasionally eating chocolate when we’re frustrated isn’t the issue - but if we turn to chocolate most of the time, then perhaps it’s worthwhile choosing a different strategy. It can be useful to ask ourselves, ‘do I want my child to handle their feelings in this way?’ If
CHILDRENLEARN THROUGH WATCHING, NOT BY LISTENING; THEY WATCH INTENSELY TO SEE HOW WE HANDLE OUR EMOTIONS.
the answer is ‘no’, then it’s time for us to flex our own emotional intelligence muscles and develop some new habits.
3. show and tell.
Our children have an uncanny ability to know when we’re feeling discomfort, like anger, sadness, or stress - although they’re not always able to put words to our emotions. They then watch intensely to see how we handle those emotions. It can be useful for us to provide a clear explanation of the connection between our feelings and the healthy way we choose to cope with them. for example, ‘I’m feeling really annoyed, so I’m going to get a drink of water and take a break for a few minutes’. By putting words to our feelings and actions, our children develop a repertoire of healthy coping strategies for their own feelings. In next issue of Great Health GuideTM I will continue to discuss the last two important factors in raising emotionally intelligent children – stay tuned.
Dr ash nayate is a clinical neuropsychologist specializing in brain function and resulting behaviour. Ash has almost 15 years’ experience working with children and families, supporting them to feel happier, more confident and resilient. To contact Ash please visit her website.