Supporting our kids' Emotional Growth

What is “EQ”? Emotional Intelligence, nicknamed EQ (as opposed to IQ, cognitive intelligence) generally corresponds to Gardner’s Intra- and Inter-Personal Intelligence and is often described as these five abilities:

  • Knowing and understanding one’s own emotions
  • Managing and effectively responding to those emotions
  • Motivating one’s self, especially regulating impulses and deferring gratification
  • Empathy, recognizing and understanding others’ emotions
  • Managing relationships and interaction with others effectively

These abilities, rather than IQ, determine one’s ability to succeed in life.

Teaching children emotional intelligence

  • Build a rich feeling vocabulary
  • Build empathy (Reflecting on books, pictures, observations)
  • Reinforce the idea that feelings are transient
  • Reinforce the idea that we can choose our response to events and feelings
  • Use Emotion Coaching

As described by John Gottman, there are five steps to “emotion coaching”:

1. Being aware of the child’s emotions

2. Recognizing the emotions as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching

3. Listening empathetically and validating the child’s feeling;

4. Helping the child verbally label emotions; and

5. Setting limits while helping the child problem-solve.

  • Point out when they’ve done well.

Being a model

  • Name your own emotions
  • Take responsibility for your emotions
  • Work through your emotions and responses out loud
  • Examine your modeling for gossiping, putting down, seeking revenge, blaming, being intolerant…

“We do not allow meanness, but we do allow sadness.”

Or, When and How to Intervene in Children’s Emotional Issues

Look to the guidelines problem ownership gives us.

When it’s the Adult’s problem:

  • When we have a problem with a child’s behavior but he doesn’t seem to, we can change ourselves or the environment to eliminate the problem, make requests, give reasons, express our own feelings, and be sure solutions are followed through.
  • Since we know that practice makes perfect, we don’t want to allow our kids to practice being unkind, although we expect each of them to be occasionally.

What that looks like: 

We intervene immediately when we see unkindness, by

first validating the child’s feelings leading up to the unkindness,

then restating the limit and reasons for it, and

finishing with a plan for an alternative to move forward.

“Whoa! You were really mad when he messed up your game!

And I won’t let you call names.

Name calling hurts hearts, and my job is to keep minds and bodies safe.

Do you need some help to resolve this?”

“You guys wanted to keep the game going the same as you had it, just the two of you.

And I won’t let you exclude people from the game. Being excluded hurts.

Everyone can play and everyone is welcome.

Can you make a plan to invite her?”

If the child defends his actions, validate some more, and then repeat steps two and three as well. Repeat as needed until the children make a plan to act kindly.

When it’s the Child’s problem:

  • When a child has a problem, he’s denied the opportunity to learn if we fix it for him.

Our job is to listen, to act as a consultant, and to support him through the experience.

  • Intervene to support the child’s learning, not to rescue him from unhappiness.

When we rush to a child’s rescue, we imply to him and his peers that he is incapable.

  • Allowing children to experience distress helps them learn to weather distress.

When we fix it all, we miss the chance to help a child build the skills it takes to respond to and weather rough times, and accept them as part of a mostly happy life.

What that looks like: 

We do allow children to experience sadness or frustration, with our support.

“So the game wasn’t feeling good to you. What would help it feel better?”

“Sounds like she’s in a teasing mood today. What’s your plan?

Will you still play with her, or go play with someone else or do something different?”

“I’m so sorry that happened. What kind of help would you like, to respond?”

“Yes, our rule is that “You can’t say you can’t play”. Want help to remind them?”

“That can really hurt your feelings. How did you handle that?”