Emotional IQ – it may get a bad rap as a cliche pop-psych term, but it’s something I really value for my kids. I want them to be great students and well-read, but none of that matters if they can’t engage and interact well with their peers. I want my kids to be good social citizens, and emotional IQ is where that starts. Our emotional IQ is what helps us be empathetic to others. It’s what helps us cooperate, interpret social cues, and identify our own thoughts and feelings.
Most people dislike the idea of their own kid having a low emotional IQ, but the truth is all kids are born that way. While they are cute and cuddly, infants are also completely and totally self-centered. When babies are born, they are concerned about their own needs, and have no concept of thinking about how others are feeling, or even how they are feeling themselves. Other people function to meet their needs, be it food, comfort, or changing. It’s developmentally normal that babies are self-centered and demanding. They’re a mess and other people exist to clean up the messes, both physically and emotionally.
Gradually, children come to see that the world does not revolve around them . . . that the other people in their lives have needs and feelings, too. This is a slow development, though, and parents of preschoolers and even elementary-aged children often report feeling like their child doesn’t always consider the feelings of others. While most typically developing children will develop a sense of empathy for others by their teenaged years, as parents we can gently guide our kids to cultivate this character trait.
Here are a few ideas for helping kids develop their emotional IQ:
Encouraging kids to identify and express their own emotions - In order to do this, we must have a working knowledge of emotions. By helping our kids put words to their own feelings, we are also helping them identify the feelings of others. For young kids, using phrases like, “use your words”, or “tell me about your feelings” can be an effective tool. For older children, a feelings chart can help broaden a child’s vocabulary about the different emotions they experience.
Reflective listening – Reflective listening is a great skill for families to develop. Reflecting listening basically involves reflecting back to a child that you hear and understand how they are feeling. If your child is feeling sad, it means acknowledging the sadness before you move to a conversation about solutions. While it sounds simple, taking a pause to show that you have heard someone else’s feelings is very powerful. When a child feels that their feelings are important, they are more likely to consider the feelings of others.
Empathy coaching – It can be beneficial to a child to dialogue empathy in daily conversation, especially when it comes to situations involving conflict. Get into the habit of talking about feelings during every teachable moment. When siblings are fighting, when a child has disobeyed, or when friends have a disagreement, encourage your child to express their feelings but also encourage them to articulate how they believe the other person is feeling. Repetition can make this practive a habit for kids.
Modeling talking about feelings– Allow your children to see your own though process when it comes to your feelings. Being vulnerable enough to say things like, “I’m feeling sad” or “I’m hurt and disappointed” can send a powerful message to children about how you filter your own feelings.
Consistent response and attention – Research indicates that children who feel safe and secure due to parents who are consistent and attention tend to develop their emotional IQ more quickly. Helping a child develop a strong sense of self esteem will encourage them to be thoughtful about others. Conversely, children who feel poorly about themselves tend to lack empathy for others.