Apart from being book smart, it is equally important for children to be able to deal with positive and negative emotions in a healthy manner. This, combined with other soft skills such as being understanding and empathetic, are qualities which kids with high emotional intelligence possess.
According to Clinical Psychologist Rachael K. Tan, emotional intelligence refers to the ability to effectively recognise feelings in oneself and others, to appropriately express and regulate these feelings, and to use them effectively to guide one’s thoughts and behaviour in working towards a desired goal.
“Being adept in these areas supports kids (and all of us!) to interact with others more effectively, encourages stronger and healthier social relationships, and helps them to successfully manage emotionally overwhelming situations by thinking and behaving in ways that help decrease stress levels and bolster their own mental health,” Rachael explains.
So what steps can you take to raise kids who are emotionally intelligent? Rachael shares some tips and suggestions with us, as follows:
1. Teach Them to Regulate Emotions through Actions
Rachael recommends that parents show kids “why” and “how”, rather than just telling them what to do. This provides them with concrete examples of what it means to regulate their emotions, so they are more likely to be able to apply it in real-life situations.
For example, if you are working on the computer at home, use this as an opportunity to teach them that taking a break helps to overcome frustrations when something isn’t going too well. You could say something like, “I’m getting a bit angry because my brain just isn’t coming up with any good ideas right now. I think I’ll go for a quick walk to calm down, and then I can try again later”.
2. Teach Them to Seek Support from Others
Teach kids that it’s okay to seek support when things are overwhelming. This will also help them become more adept in providing support when those around them need it.
As suggested by Rachael, an example of a concrete comforting strategy is simply requesting for a hug from your child, “I’m feeling a bit down today. Can I have a hug to cheer me up?” You can also offer to give them one when they are upset.
You can teach joint problem-solving (a more abstract cognitive strategy) by saying something like, “I’m feeling really sad now because they ran out of my favourite snack at the store. What do you think I could do to make myself feel better?”
3. Teach Them to Identify Subtle Differences and Complex Relationships between Emotions
Instead of only teaching primary emotions such as happy, sad, scared and mad, Rachael advises parents to help their kids understand that emotions vary in intensity, and can also mix to form other emotions (e.g., disappointment, jealousy). This will assist them to better identify these in both themselves and others, and consequently enable them to use more targeted strategies to manage these emotions
4. Teach them about Cause and Effect
Rachael emphasises the importance of teaching children to identify when and where some strategies that may be effective, may not be appropriate at times. For example, going for a walk and not attending a class they don’t particularly like may get them in trouble, but they could plan to do something that will put them in a good mood prior to that time, or to do something enjoyable after they have finished that class to reward themselves.
5. Demonstrate Effective Interpersonal Communication
To navigate the world of friendships, conflicts and relationships successfully, your child needs to be equipped with strong interpersonal communication skills. Most of these skills are learnt through observation, and as parents, you can teach them by setting a good example.
According to Rachael, here are some effective interpersonal skills to teach your child:
- To use active listening skills in conversations
- How to put across their point of views assertively
- How to engage in appropriate conflict resolution strategies to obtain mutually-agreeable outcomes during disagreements