2020 has been a long, tough year. In the midst of a global pandemic, a worldwide reckoning on race, we have all observed both the best and the worst of human behavior. The unexpected collective stress of recent months has brought to light public expressions of selfishness, irresponsibility, and anger, but also actions of compassion and kindness to total strangers. As a parent, I have found myself wondering, how can I raise an emotionally intelligent child who contributes to the greater good? Raising emotional children is much simpler than altering hardwired adults.
If you’re reflecting on how to begin, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:
Teach your child to label their feelings and emotions.
It is never too early to begin this practice. Teaching children to identify and name their feelings helps to normalize the vast range of emotions that people experience. It also helps your child to feel understood and more connected to you, supports their processing, and helps them find coping strategies for negative emotions. Families who don’t acknowledge or talk about feelings risk raising children who are emotionally aloof and socially disconnected. This can also lead to unhealthy coping mechanism for negative emotions (for example, acting out in anger.) A social-emotional learning curriculum, such as Empowering Confident Youth, can help support the process of labeling and managing emotions.
Point out other people’s feelings and behaviors.
Children are hardwired to consider themselves and their own needs first; this is a natural development. Pointing out other people’s feelings and behaviors teaches empathy and helps your child realize that it’s not all about them. For example, when a sibling or playmate is crying, it’s helpful to name that. For example, “It seems like your friend is feeling sad right now. How can we help them feel better?”
Focus on your child’s strengths, not their growth areas.
This concept actually goes against how most of us are programmed. Think back to when you were in school, and a teacher returned an exam or a paper to you. Where do your eyes go first—to the answers you got correct or the answers you got wrong? While it may be easy to fixate on your child’s growth areas, this can actually be counterproductive to their healthy development. A focus on strengths helps increase your child’s confidence and self-awareness. Dedicating time and resources to your child’s strengths helps them build on those strengths and create new ones as well.
Teach problem-solving skills, give options, and set limits.
Being emotionally intelligent requires developing active problem-solving skills and learning healthy boundaries and limits. Children often need support in developing those skills. For example, your child may be frustrated because they have no screen time left for the day or angry because a playmate has taken their favorite toy. Giving your options and helping them brainstorm potential solutions teaches a valuable skill in self-awareness. Once your child is able to actively problem solve with you, they become more likely to continue problem solving when you’re not there to support them.
Raising a kind, sensitive, emotionally healthy child is a lifelong process, but these suggestions are the perfect place to start!