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How to teach your child emotional intelligence

different emotions

In today’s world, there is more of an awareness of emotional intelligence than ever before.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘Emotional Intelligence’ is:

the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

We have to be able to express our own emotional feelings and needs, but also be able to recognise emotional cues from those around us.

Just like it takes our bodies 20 years or so to reach maturity, emotional intelligence also needs time to grow. However, we have to be taught to manage and control our emotions, but also to respect the emotions of those around us. It doesn’t happen all by itself. We all know some adults who are still not yet in control of their emotions and how that affects all the relationships around them – spouse or partner, children, friends, extended family, and even professional relationships at work.

So, how do we grow emotional intelligence in our children?

First of all, you can’t teach your children something you don’t know or master yourself. You can’t be the one who loses your temper and starts yelling, yet expect your child to be in control of their emotions all the time. So, we have to start with our own awareness. Not always an easy task.

We have to stop and think about our own emotions. How do I feel? Often people with an underdeveloped emotional intelligence will only be able to describe about 4 types of emotions – angry, sad, happy, fear. But these emotions can be explored deeper to unveil a different emotion. For example, people might perceive someone as angry, but then they might rather be frustrated, annoyed, disappointed, concerned or hurt. Clearly, these are all very different emotions in their own right, yet, for someone who is not familiar with these words or their meanings, it might all just portray as anger.

The same with happy, there are so many different emotions to describe that ‘happy’ feeling inside of us – joy, excited, grateful, elated, overjoy, even euphoric.  

The truth is, we can equip our children to become more mature and conscientious adults by teaching them to recognise and describe their own feelings, but also be able to recognise and describe the feelings of those around them.

So, how do we do that?

When they are young, we can already start using these emotional words to describe their feelings if we see it and express it on their behalf, e.g. ‘I can see that you are frustrated with that toy, maybe we should rather play with something else?’ or ‘you are jumping up and down, you must be very excited to go to the park’.

We also have to teach them how to ‘read’ facial expressions and body language from a young age. Make a fun activity of it – pull different faces and let them guess the emotion. And then let them have a go at pulling faces too. Children’s TV programs with real people (not animated) is also a wonderful opportunity to guess the emotion. I remember how often we watched Playschool and the girls had to guess the emotion of the presenter. Even watching people in the park or shopping mall was an ideal opportunity for us to ‘guess’ what others were feeling. If you want to take it one step further, you can also ‘guess’ why. Why do you think that man is so upset? Is he late for a meeting? Is it because he dropped all the apples? How would you feel if that happened to you? Did his frustration help the situation?

As they get older, you can add more types of emotions to your vocabulary. And use it often, even to describe your own feelings. Even if you are feeling frustrated or concerned, express that and let your kids know. And no, I’m NOT advocating that your children become your confidant in grown up matters, but it might just save the child a lot of anxiety if they know you are not annoyed at them.

Often, we shy away from ‘negative’ emotions, but then we only teach our children that it is ‘bad’ and should be ignored. And that is not a healthy way to deal with emotions. Rather let them express those ‘negative’ feelings and teach them ways to deal with it, e.g. hitting a pillow instead of your sister in anger is better than forcing them to suppress the anger and pretend all is good.

During the semi-lockdown earlier this year, we as a family made a big poster with different emotions written on it. We put it up in the kitchen with a movable pin for each family member. Throughout the day, as we saw the poster, we were reminded to stop and think about how we are feeling, and were allowed to move the pin if required. That way I could keep tabs on everyone’s feelings throughout the lockdown and we could talk about it before it became a big issue. Well, that was my initial reason for doing it. But I quickly realised the value in it that the kids could monitor my emotions too! They could see that I also felt frustrated and annoyed at the whole situation (I mean, grocery shopping is never fun, but doing it on my own during lockdown was even less fun!).

Throughout this process they could see HOW I manage my own feelings of frustration, anxiety and concern during this time. It made me grateful, but also humble and more aware of my daily example of handling different situations in life.

Do the different temperaments experience and display emotions differently?

Oh, YES! Definitely!

The Monkeys can be very melodramatic and publicly display their emotions. They can also go from one end of the spectrum to the other in a matter of seconds. You don’t have to guess how they are feeling, you can see it, and it can change in a matter of minutes.  

Meerkats are the deepest feelers and the most emotional of all the temperaments. They are very sensitive and need to be handled with extra care and love. However, they can sometimes feel like a victim, even if the person did not intend to hurt them.

Koalas are also quite sensitive people, but don’t really show it. Often koalas fly under the radar when it comes to emotions, as they just don’t kick up a fuss like the other temperaments. So, we as parents (or partners) have to take special time and care to check in emotionally on the koalas in our lives.

The Lions have the most underdeveloped emotional awareness by nature of all the temperaments. They are often seen as angry and aggressive. They struggle to sympathise with other people and their feelings. For the sake of all involved, we have to train our lion cubs in anger management and empathy for others, even if the claws come out (especially when the claws come out!).

Our different temperaments will play a crucial role in how emotional intelligence manifests in our lives. We can all benefit from self-awareness when it comes to our emotions and the affect it has on others around us. And this will be a life-long journey as we keep on growing in our understanding.

To learn more about the different temperaments and how that influences who we are, join one of my workshops. For more information, click below

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