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Teaching Children Emotional Intelligence


One of my proudest moments as a mom thus far came when my oldest son was about two years old. I was carting him around Seattle too busy for our own good. I had just dragged him from a friend’s house to the car so we could get home in time to relieve our babysitter.

I suddenly heard feet thumping and heavy sighs. So I asked my son what was on his mind to which he replied, “Mom, I’m frustrated. I didn’t want to leave Vienna’s home.”


teaching kids emotional intelligence

It is never too early to start the emotional intelligence training. Don’t just stop at your child learning his or her own state of emotions, take it a step further to try to embrace “empathy”, an innate quality most of us are born with (there is a reason babies cry when they hear other babies cry.).

I am fascinated with reading about emotional intelligence. It seems to be a ticket to do good work in life, to be successful in working with others and in being productive.

I was talking to a therapist friend of mine about empathy in children. She said that early on in development, a child looks to both mom and dad for validation of feelings.

However, with boys, when they start “becoming a man”, the father plays a much greater role in ensuring that “empathy” stays. I am not sure about girls. I assume the mother plays a greater role but with boys because they are “taught” that “crying is bad”. So, generally speaking, empathy with boys might be a bit trickier.

The way I look at this “emotional intelligence” concept is in four main areas that build upon one another over time:

  1. Learning own emotions
  2. Empathy
  3. Getting along with others
  4. Learning emotions of others and how people formulate relationships

Teaching Kids Emotional Intelligence

Books, books and more books – A few of my favorites so far are Love You Forever, The Giving Tree, The Kissing Hand, Guess How Much I Love You, The Rainbow Fish, The Pout Pout Fish, On Monday When It Rained, Nutmeg and Barley, The Very Lonely Firefly, Who’s Hiding and Big Feelings. I made a list on Amazon if you’re interested in learning more about these books.

Story Telling – Beyond books, I found this great felt board story set on Etsy based on the book On Monday When It Rained. You could make your own set but if you want to save some time, the set is reasonably priced.

Emotion ball – My sons take Mandarin at a local language school. One method of teaching these young children (age 4 and under) is with a “ball” that has flat edges. On each flat edge is a different emotion illustrated with a simply drawn face.

The teacher rolls the “ball” towards each child and whatever emotion the “ball” lands on she dramatizes in an effort to have the child learn some vocabulary. This approach is obviously one way to familiarize young children with basic emotions of happy, sad, mad, excited, disappointed, etc. I am in the process of creating one of our own.

Cards – Dig out some magazines and, with your child, find images of people with smiles, grimaces, tears, etc. Cut them out, glue them to a card and laminate.

If images are not available, use stickers or even just a marker. I made some cards with cardboard from a box and made very rudimentary cards with a black marker. I mix them up, pull a card out of the pile and say, “show me EXCITED!” or ask him to tell me what kind of face in drawn on the card.

Showing your Emotions – I was conflicted about this suggestion at first but after conversations with a few very respected peers, including two therapists, I have come to the conclusion that letting your child see your emotions is a positive thing. Of course, if you are about to throw an “adult sized” temper tantrum, you may not want to exemplify this behavior to your child. So think about it.

If you are sad because you’ve just received some tough news, or you are upset because you dropped a plate on the floor, manage those emotions and explain them to your child if possible. The act will teach and help to maintain the quality of “empathy” that your child already holds near to him or her.

Books for Parents: I am very impressed with John Gottman’s book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. I highly recommend it. Here is a link to a webcast by John Gottman.

Thanks for reading!

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