Helping Our Children Develop Emotional Intelligence

Check out the Thrive article in the latest edition of Montana Parent!

Written By Becky Hodgson- Parent Liaison

What if you could give your child gift that would help them have healthy relationships, promote success at school, and lower their stress levels? There is. Helping our children understand emotions is the gift that keeps giving.

Here are some building blocks to get started.

Name It. Children need the vocabulary to recognize and name what they are feeling. For young children start with basics: anger, joy, sadness, fear, disgust. Build from there.

Be Curious. Ask them to tell you how they are feeling. If they need help, offer your observations.  “You seemed a little sad when you came home from school today”.

Don’t Judge. Empathize with the feeling your child is expressing even if it seems inappropriate for the event. Children who feel understood experience less painful and urgent emotions.

Redirect Behavior, Not Feelings. Set clear boundaries for behavior. Identify feelings and encourage children to express their emotions but explain why certain behaviors are inappropriate. “It is ok to feel frustrated, but not ok to hit your brother.”

Recognize Facial Expressions. Learning to recognize facial expressions is an essential skill for building relationships. While reading stories at night stop and look at the illustrations, ask your child what they think the character is feeling and why. Play the ‘faces game’. Make faces for one another, guess which emotion is being conveyed and what might cause someone to feel that way.

Tool Box. With your child’s input, help them build a tool box, things they can do to help cope with their feelings in a positive manner. Kids will have some good ideas. Here are a few to get started: ask for a hug, walk away, ask for help, solve with words, take deep breaths, draw a picture, find a safe place and take a break. If they are having a hard time in the moment, give them two choices from their tool box.

Triggers. Help your child recognize what can trigger certain emotions and how to manage those triggers. Lack of sleep, hunger (or unhealthy diet), overstimulation all jump to the top of the trigger list for many children.

Reflect and Praise. Children need to hear when they are managing emotions well. Reflect with them when they are calm and praise them for the specific behavior.  Don’t reason with them in the middle of a tantrum- they are not using their ‘thinking brain’. Use empathy instead, i.e.: “I know this is hard”.  Wait until the dust has settled and then reflect with them.

Understanding and connecting with your child about their emotions provides a foundation for success at home, at school, and in life. Give your child the tools to practice a lifetime of positive coping skills by fostering their emotional intelligence early-on.

-Becky Hodgson has worked in the social work field in Bozeman for over 20 years and is honored to be the Thrive Parent Liaison at Longfellow and Hawthorne schools.