You teach kids to pause
“Kids are impulsive by nature and when unchecked, they can become impulsive adults,” shares Aleasa Word, certified emotional intelligence coach. “Impulsivity undermines emotional intelligence, so teach children to stop and think about how they feel before they act.” She suggests using visual cues, like a special bracelet or trigger words to help kids learn how to pause. Explain to kids the importance of taking five seconds to respond to anything, unless it’s an emergency. “My own kids have a look up, look down, look left, and look right routine before responding, which forces them to pause,” she shares.
You encourage conversation
“Have mandatory family-talk time,” advises Tom Kersting, licensed psychotherapist and author of Disconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids. “The average parent spends three and a half minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children. Make it a rule for the whole family to sit together for at least 15 minutes per night and, well, talk.”
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You accept and encourage your child’s emotions
“Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are, and everyone is entitled to their feelings, including your child,” says Harvey Deutschendorf, author of The Other Kind of Smart: Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success. “Always encourage them to express their feelings through questioning. For example, if they look sad or upset and aren’t speaking, you could ask, ‘You look down today; did something happen?’ Never pass judgment or doubt their feelings. For them, their feelings are real and authentic.”
You help your child sort through his or her feelings
Children of all ages may struggle to put words to the emotions they’re experiencing. “You can help them by suggesting, but never telling them, what they might be feeling,” Deutschendorf says. “For example, you could say. ‘If my best friend wouldn’t talk to me, I would probably feel abandoned or unwanted…does that sound right?’ You could share your feelings if you experienced a similar situation, thereby encouraging your child to open up and trust you with her feelings.”
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You model emotional intelligence in front of your children
A big aspect of teaching emotional intelligence in children is modeling it as you experience your own feelings in your day-to-day life. Children watch their parents closely and pick up on healthy and unhealthy coping skills based on what they observe. “Share emotions that you have had throughout the day with your child,” suggests Deutschendorf. “For example, if you became angry because someone cut you off in traffic, share how you handled it in a positive manner. Also, share how good it felt when your boss commended you for a job well done.”
You teach them empathy through awareness of how others are feeling
Spending face-to-face time talking to your kids about the emotions of others is a great way to build a foundation for developing empathy, which plays an important role in emotional intelligence. “When your kid talks about something happening at school to someone else, for instance, ask them to imagine how that person felt.” Deutschendorf says. If something happened to someone you know, don’t forget to demonstrate empathy when talking about it in front of your kids.
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You set boundaries on behaviours, not emotions
Provide your children with boundaries that will guide them as they experience and sort through their emotions. Never tell them how they should or shouldn’t feel, but step in if they behave inappropriately. For instance, if they are angry and hitting, it is okay to stop them from hitting. “Separate the behaviours from your child,” says Nechama Finkelstein, licensed clinical social worker. “Your child should always get the message that she is lovable just the way she is even when she needs to increase or decrease specific behaviours.”
You recognize and praise them when they remain in control
Raising emotionally intelligent children is a slow and steady process, so it’s important for you to recognize and celebrate progress. “Acknowledge situations where your child could have let his emotions run amuck but remained in control. Then praise him for it,” suggests Deutschendorf. “Say, ‘I like the way that you didn’t get frustrated when your little brother kept interfering in your game. I noticed you calmly found something fun for him to do. That was a great way to deal with him. How does that feel?’”
Originally published as 8 Signs You’re Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children on ReadersDigest.com.