Emotional intelligence is a relatively new psychological concept, but it’s been backed by years of research. This kind of intelligence enables people to have positive interactions with others, to predict others’ thoughts and feelings, and to engage in appropriate levels of empathy. Emotional intelligence is strongly correlated with career and academic success because emotionally intelligent people earn the trust of their superiors, make colleagues feel valued, and attract admirers wherever they go. Like other forms of intelligence, early experiences and direct teaching can help children master the fine art of relating to other people. Here’s what you can do to help a child learn this valuable skill.
Practice Active Listening
Active listening requires not just that you listen to your child, but that you give feedback such as, “I can see you’re really angry right now” or “How did it make you feel when Julie said that?” Active listeners tend to have better social skills, so this listening style models a valuable behavior to your child. Perhaps more importantly, it helps your child master the art of conversation and encourages her to continue to provide you more information. Providing the right kind of information during conversations is an important social skill that will help your child in adulthood.
Empathy is the ability to predict and relate to other people’s feelings and, especially in complex situations, can be surprisingly challenging. Rather than forcing your child to reflexively apologize when she does something wrong, ask her to put herself into another person’s shoes. For a more advanced lesson in empathy, encourage her to think about the feelings of people very different from herself. Ask her to contemplate why her teacher, her parents, or her little brother might do something. Prompting your child to understand another person’s state of mind can help her begin to investigate these issues on her own as she matures.
Teach Impulse Control
Children are impulsive creatures, but impulse control plays a surprising role in emotional intelligence. Children who can control their immediate reactions to things have an additional moment to think about another person’s feelings. They’re also less likely to say things they regret. Reward your child for practicing patience and impulse control, and allow her to watch you doing the same thing. If you avoid yelling and you apologize when you’re wrong, your child will quickly learn the value of these skills.
Talk About Social Skills
Many children struggle with shyness or bullying, both of which can be obstacles to learning social skills and mastering emotional intelligence. If your child is struggling with making friends, help her out by giving her ideas of discussion topics or asking her if there’s any area that’s really difficult for her with friends. Avoid lecturing her or telling her she needs to make new friends. Instead, emphasize that friendship—like almost everything else—is a skill that most people need a little help to master.
Children who can talk openly and honestly with their parents tend to have higher emotional intelligence scores. Don’t punish your child for disagreeing with you or the rules, and solicit her opinion on issues that affect her as much as possible. This teaches your child to tolerate different viewpoints, allows her to master the art of critical thinking, and gives her additional practice at conversational skills.
- Harwood, R., Miller, S. A., Vasta, R. (2008). Child psychology: Development in a changing society. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
- Stern, R. (n.d.). Social and emotional learning: What is it? How can we use it to help our children? NYU Child Study Center. Retrieved from http://www.aboutourkids.org/articles/social_emotional_learning_what_it_how_can_we_use_it_help_our_children
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