You're probably aware of the abundant research pointing to the importance of developing EQ, or "Emotional Intelligence." The research even suggests that EQ trumps IQ in long-term life outcomes such as happiness or even economic success (of course, hopefully you don't have to choose one or the other). On this blog we'll explore many ways to build EQ, and we know that most fundamentally it comes from the modeling of adults. But what is the most fundamental step to begin teaching this to kids?
The simplest way to build EQ is to teach kids how to give language to their emotions. This works for four year olds, fourteen year olds, and forty year olds, for that matter.
The idea here is to use language to map our experience. And equally important - as we map that experience, model acceptance. Show kids that whatever we are feeling is OK. It has to be. Otherwise we begin by fighting the reality in front of us.
Let your child's feelings be felt fully, but not necessarily acted on. Right now your child says they're extremely frustrated, exhausted and angry? Show that you accept that. Ground zero. It's OK to feel that. Now that you're aware of it AND accept it, you can do something about it.
That response may be to take some deep breaths, or notice that you're hungry and need a snack, or that a younger child needs a nap, etc. The essence is: teach your child how to describe their emotions. In the process, you're showing them how to more self-aware. Then model and teach them to accept whatever feeling is coming up, before you begin to think about possibly changing it.
So how do you teach this?
For younger kids, use a tool like Todd Parr's Feelings Flash Cards to help them more accurately explain what they're feeling. You can also use yourself as a mirror - reflecting back to them how you perceive their emotions, positive or negative, giving them a sense of being seen as well as new words and nuance to use.
For adolescents, I've seen schools use "Get out of jail cards", a laminated business-card size piece of paper with a long list of emotions printed on it. Simply having the words in front of you helps kids more accurately discern what's happening inside. For adolescents to adults, try the Feelings Inventory from the Center for Nonviolent Communication.
With specific language, kids feel less frustrated at being misunderstood by peers or adults. They also develop greater self-awareness. Otherwise, just saying "I hate this!" anytime something doesn't go well, or simply roaring with frustration, doesn't give you much to work with. When they can articulate "I'm feeling sad because..." or "I'm disappointed about...", now we have something to work with AND we've helped them develop a fuller sense of what's happening inside.