Emotional intelligence is a phrase that you hear everywhere these days. I believe that it is essential that children, and adults, know how to express and cope with their emotions.
Emotional Intelligence: the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
When my kids were young, emotional intelligence was not discussed openly in my circle of people. It just did not cross my path. In raising my girls, I can remember many days with big emotions. Looking back, my oldest daughter really did not have the outlet or ability to decipher her own feelings and manage them in an emotionally intelligent way. The feelings would immediately go to behavioral reactions and outbursts. There was no awareness, understanding, description or acceptance of her emotions. There was just, in many cases, an outpouring of the emotion in the form of action, like a volcano erupting. I can remember going to professionals looking for answers, but this topic did not come up. How do we teach our children to accept and process their emotions?
What I did not know then, I do know now. Awareness is the most essential part of emotional intelligence. We need to teach our children, and often ourselves, how to see their own emotions, recognize, and label them. For example, when we get mad, we need to be aware of our bodily sensations that typically come with this feeling or emotion. Perhaps our heart rate increases, our palms get sweaty, and we feel overwhelmed. We all have different reactions, so it is important that we learn how to tap into our own body’s reaction.
Once we become aware of the emotion we can try to understand its source. We can help our children do this by modeling it first in our own lives. Modeling is a great way to teach our kids new techniques. Another method to bring more understanding from our child’s point of view is to ask questions from a place of curiosity. For example, “I am curious, what is making you feel this way?”
The next part of emotional intelligence is helping our children put words to their emotions and describe what they are feeling. This helps them to begin to understand their emotions in a deeper, more meaningful way. The more we can create a conversation about emotions – happy, sad, mad, whatever it may be – the more we can help our children open up and talk about it. Sharing our emotions in a positive way, without immediate reaction and chaos, can help a child cope with big and small emotions, in a healthy way and with compassion. We can give them the tools to be able to discuss emotion in a healthy fashion.
Expressing our emotions in a healthy way is not just important, but it is essential. We all need to be able to do this in our lives so that these emotions are released in a way that serves us. If we hold back, imagine how much emotion builds up within us and can be released in unconstructive, inappropriate ways. How do you process your own emotions? What techniques do you use to help your children cope with theirs?