Have you ever been impressed by how eloquently your child expresses their feelings, or how attentive they are to the fact you’re tired or upset? That means your little one has been blessed with high emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.
“A child needs an environment where they can feel comfortable expressing their inner worlds,” said child psychologist Dustin Plattner in an interview. Some research has shown that kids with high emotional intelligence tend to be more engaged in school and have better relationships. As adults, people with higher emotional intelligence also tend to have higher-quality relationships and improved mental health. The good news is emotional intelligence is not just a ‘gift’ one is born with, it is more of a skill that can be taught and developed.
The following article details the common habits for children with high EQ and the ways to help them develop emotional intelligence.
1. They use their vocabulary to express emotion
When kids are asked questions like ‘How’s your day?’ they often respond with short one-word answers. Highly emotionally intelligent kids are able to recognize and verbally express their emotions beyond ‘good’ or ‘bad’. For example ‘I feel sad I cannot hang out with my friends’, ‘I feel so excited I got a new bike’, or ‘I feel really mad at my teacher’.
2. They recognize emotions in others
Emotionally intelligent kids often pick up on nonverbal cues and generally sense how other people are feeling. “Before you can empathize, you have to be able to read someone else’s emotions,” explains the educational psychologist Michele Borba. These kids develop an early understanding that if someone is smiling it means they’re happy, if someone is crying they may need help, and so on.
3. They see things from other people’s perspective
Children with high EQ have the ability to ‘step into another person’s shoes’ and see the world from their perspective. Mastering the ability to take another person’s perspective is an important part of instilling a connection with others. Moreover, it is a habit that will aid kids in every part of life – from handling playground disputes now to managing workplace debates in the future.
“When kids can grasp another’s perspective, they are more likely to be empathetic, handle conflicts peacefully, be less judgmental, value differences, speak up for those who are victimized, and act in ways that are more helpful, comforting and supportive of others,” Borba added.
4. They are quick to help others
Thanks to the qualities we listed so far, kids with high EQ are likely to recognize someone who needs their help and look for ways to lend a hand. It could mean helping out around the house, befriending a new kid in their class, or any action that is more focused on “we” rather than “me”.
5. They manage their emotions
Highly emotionally intelligent kids are less prone to tantrums or spiraling out of control due to intense emotions. Because they can recognize their emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and shame – they understand what they need at that moment. “Action then comes from this emotional understanding rather than acting based on an in-the-moment impulse,” says Plattner.
6. They practice gratitude
Practicing gratitude doesn’t just mean saying ‘thank you’ reflexively because it’s polite, but the child being specific about what they’re appreciative of and why. For example, if the kid gets a present from grandma and grandpa, he or she will go hug them and will accompany the standard ‘thank you’ with ‘thank you for the gift, it made me happy’.
7. They are comfortable saying no
Kids with high emotional intelligence tend to be more comfortable with setting personal boundaries. If, for example, they don’t want to play a certain game with a friend, they can speak up and express it in a firm but kind way. “Typically, these youths can maintain reasonable limits, show proper respect of others, are assertive, and listen to their emotions,” said psychotherapist Brandon Jones.
8. They understand that their feelings are legitimate
Youngsters with high emotional intelligence see their feelings as a normal part of life. So even when they have to deal with negative emotions which they cannot control, they have the tools to go through these emotions, rather than being ashamed and confused. Providing those tools as a parent is the essence of raising an emotionally intelligent child.
How to help kids develop their emotional intelligence
Although these traits come naturally to some kids, it doesn’t mean it cannot be deliberately taught or developed from a young age, as mentioned earlier. It’s all about providing your child with an environment where they feel safe expressing themselves and, of course, being a role model. Here are 4 ways to do so.
1. Giving names to emotions
When your child is experiencing strong emotions and can’t say what they are in words, try to help them find those words, whether positive or negative. Find out together if what they’re feeling right now is “happy”, “excited” or rather “sad”, “angry” or “embarrassed”.
2. Show empathy
Do not dismiss your child’s feelings as unimportant, even if they are upset over ‘something small’. Instead, validate them and let them feel understood. For example, if your child is annoyed because you told them they cannot go outside until they tidy up all their toys, you may say, “I get upset too when I can’t do what I want, like go home before all the work in the office is done”. That way, the kids get the message that what they feel is a legitimate part of life.
3. Provide tools for self-soothing and problem-solving
Self-soothing in stressful or frustrating situations is something even some adults have trouble with. Some of the ways you can teach your child to regulate their emotions include taking deep breaths, walking away when agitated, or learning to use their words to say, ‘I need a break’ versus yelling when angry.
4. Make it an everyday process
The learning process is not going to be a one-off thing. This means you need to make talking about feelings an everyday practice. You can discuss how a character in a book or movie your child likes might have felt in a certain part, and come up with real-life solutions the kid can utilize in the future.