How To Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children

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What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

EQ is defined as, “The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” The question remains, how do we foster EQ in our children?

We recently came across a Tedx Talk by Lael Stone titled, “How to Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children.” See below:

In the talk, Lael Stone begins by asking you to imagine yourself as a four-year-old. All of the sudden, the tower you’ve worked so very hard on falls over before you can stack the very last piece. You scream, you cry, you get frustrated. Mom or Dad quickly comes to check on you, and instead of telling you to just build another or telling you it’s not worth crying about, they ask you, “Honey, what’s wrong?” You cry and complain and instead of trying to fix it for you, your mom or dad holds you as you express your emotions. You start to feel better and give Mom or Dad a big hug. You both take a deep breath and move on with your day.

Now, think about how you would handle a similar situation with your own child. Would you dismiss them? Would you get frustrated with their behaviors? Would you scold them? If so, that’s okay! You have been doing the best you can with the knowledge you had at the time. But in this Ted Talk, Stone explains that these moments are the best opportunities to develop emotional intelligence, compassionate listening, loving limits, and boundaries. She encourages us to find the reason behind the behavior, *hint hint* unprocessed emotions! These emotions need to be felt in order to be processed, otherwise, they will pop up later in life, and it won’t be pretty!

Stone explains that there are 3 ways kids learn to deal with emotions:

  1. Repression: If a child learned it wasn’t safe to express their emotions, for example, they were told, “Quit you crying,” they find a way to cope with the emotions/feelings by pushing them down. Those feelings stay there and as adults, they come back up again.
  2. Aggression: If a child felt powerless/scared when experiencing emotions or lived in an authoritarian environment, their emotions bubble inside them and when they boil over, it comes out in form of aggression, bullying behavior, harsh critical thoughts about themselves or others, and sometimes violence.
  3. Expression: If a child grew up in an environment where feelings were welcomed, for example, learning that it’s okay to express who you are, all of you is welcome, I’m not going to fix you, just try to hold through the emotion, they develop emotional intelligence, compassionate thinking, and resilience. When these children grow up and experience troubling emotions, they might journal their feelings, call a friend, go for a run, do some yoga, or speak to a therapist. By doing so, they feel the feelings, then let them go.

What does this look like in practice?

Stone gave a powerful example from her own life. She is a mother to 3 teenagers and after studying trauma, she knew what they needed was a safe place to unpack who they are. So rather than fixing, she’d offer compassion and empathy beginning with a simple statement, “Tell me all about it.”

When her children were young, there was one night that she was incredibly busy and her 5-year-old came in crying as she was getting ready to leave for work. She admitted she didn’t have time to listen to her feelings before work, but her 10-year-old daughter came around the corner and told her, “I can listen to her feelings.” Stone stuck around for a few minutes to listen in and heard her 10-year-old tell her little sister, “Tell me about your feelings.” After her little sister cried and complained, eventually the tears turned to giggles, and the giggles turned to laughter. When Stone asked her 10-year-old about how she helped, she said, “I just did what you do for me, Mommy.”

“Children can’t be what they can’t see.”

Lael Stone

What if…

What if we supported parents with tools and understanding to listen compassionately? What if we encouraged boys to cry and girls to rage and speak up for what they need? What if we modeled compassionate listening, loving limits, and boundaries and learn to look behind the behavior?

Picture from “How To Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children” Tedx Talk by Lael Stone

The idea of education is to learn about the world around us and the world within us.

Our education system typically focuses on the former. But Stone wondered what would it look like to prioritize focusing on the world within us rather than around us. To find the answer, she and a colleague founded Woodline Primary School, whose mission is to foster emotional well-being in a safe learning environment. When children feel safe to learn by feeling free of criticism/judgment, being treated with kindness and respect, have autonomy over their bodies and their learning, and are given much love about their uniqueness and differences that make them who they are, neurological systems become fully operational. So, if we work on developing emotional intelligence, a growth mindset, critical thinking, a love of failure because it means there are more options to explore, compassionate citizens of the earth, learning becomes effortless and endless.

Developing EQ in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

Raising emotionally intelligent children is even more important given the global pandemic. It is well known that this pandemic has caused an impact on children’s social, emotional, and mental well-being. Trauma faced at this developmental stage could continue to affect them across their lifespan.

So, the next time your child comes to you angry, frustrated, sad, anxious, or overwhelmed, I encourage you to sit with them and say, “Tell me all about it.” Notice how it allows them to express their emotions and validates how they are feeling all within a safe place so they may fully process their emotions.

Two elephant look at each other. Animals mom and baby. Cartoons cute animals in flat style.