Has your child every screamed at you because he lost a game, fair and square?
Hearing him insist that it's “not fair,” and “you cheated,” are telling statements. It's a sure sign that it's a good time to help your child develop emotional regulation, and with it, emotional intelligence.
What is emotional regulation?
Simply put, it's the ability to regulate emotions in order to live a naturally adaptive existence. It allows us to shape, work and control our responses as needed. Self-regulation doesn't necessarily come naturally, but it can be learned – and taught. And the best way to foster even-keeled reactions is to stimulate emotional intelligence.
Take for example, a very common situation that's likely happened to you: you're at the mall, and your child starts to throw a tantrum because she wants a toy. The more you say “no,” the wilder the tantrum becomes. Now, it feels like everyone in your vicinity is watching… and judging. While this is definitely a stressful situation, the bottom line is you likely have the emotional intelligence to sort out your own feelings and tend to your child accordingly. And you've likely found that a calm, yet stern reaction ultimately is what works best.
In this case, you've got emotional regulation in your pocket – now, think about what would happen if your child could read his or her emotions better and act on them?
The purpose of emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is a guiding principle of self-regulation. If you can sort out your own emotions, then it's easier to choose appropriate, productive, positive action. It allows the development of better coping strategies, promotes maturity and develops the feeling of empathy for other people. In short, it is a very important concept.
Like any learning process, developing emotional intelligence takes time. But if you work to build it up gradually, it can have fantastic results! Here are five simple steps to start this process.
Identify Expressive Emotions and Physical Signs
Maybe your child can't easily define what it is to be “sad” or makes comments like, “I can’t cry 'cause I’m a boy.” This type of situation is the perfect opportunity to help your son learn to better identify his emotions.
Try mime games where you simulate different emotions using the characteristics normally associated with each emotion. Or, you could play a fun “emoji” game with your child. Open up the emoji keyboard on your smart phone, and get them to guess which emotion is expressing. (This can be a fun guessing game for you, too =) Your child's ability to easily recognize emotions by the associated facial expressions will evolve quickly.
Do you enjoy watching movies with your child? This is the perfect time to talk about the emotions their favorite characters are experiencing. Focus on discussing unpleasant emotions, asking your child how that character might handle those negative feelings. For example, ask your child, “If Harry Potter is sad, how can we help him feel better?” A child who is able to recognize and accept his or her emotions will find it easier to solve problems throughout life.
Talk About Your Emotions
Let your child in on your emotions in appropriate situations. Explain what you're feeling and why you feel that way. Of course avoid anything that would be too stressful on your child, but be honest about the small things that evoke an emotion. Making room for these kinds of honest conversations help strengthen your relationship with your child, builds trust, and creates a sense of empathy, which is essential for the development of emotional intelligence. Knowing how to listen, empathize and put yourself in other people's shoes are essential characteristics of those who have a high level of emotional intelligence.
Allow Children To Express Themselves
Often we are afraid of the reactions that our children may have, so we end up avoiding certain situations. A child's characteristic expressiveness is essential for his or her adaptive development. When your child is sad or angry, you may tend to minimize the situation, which can lead to him or her getting in the habit of repressing certain emotions. This can have negative consequences in the future, so as much as possible, let your child express him or herself – and when emotions are running too high, help your child navigate to a calmer, happier place.
Take Care of Yourself
Children learn mainly through modeling. This means that they mimic the behaviors they see in their role models. A child who sees parents hide emotions may tend to do the same. If you are sad, had a bad day and you hide your tears, surely your child will think twice to show hers, right? Transparency can be an excellent ally in your life. And taking care of yourself, which includes getting adequate rest, relaxing and taking moments for yourself will make you more available for your child, so you can enjoy more quality time together – with the backing you need to keep your own emotional regulation in check. I
These small steps that can be performed daily with small conversations can positively impact your child's life. It is important to create a unique and special space for your child. By supporting the development of his or her emotional growth, your child stands a much better chance to grow into a healthy, balanced adult.