As the hashtag #endthestigma circulated social media in recent years, a conversation torpedoed into a wonderful movement within the children of the world. What if children were not taught to bury their feelings, but rather to acknowledge and even celebrate them, both good and bad?
What if, rather than attempting to nip difficult feelings in the bud immediately to avoid embarrassment (as if our child having a meltdown is a poor reflection of our parenting), instead we spent time being intentional about teaching our children how to handle disappointment and difficult feelings? What kind of world would that create?
There are a host of wonderful children’s books that can help with developing a wide emotional vocabulary to use in conversations with your children, and I will include a few to get started with at the end of this post. One particular standout comes in the form of My Body Sends a Signal by Natalia Maguire, which was released in June 2020. Maguire takes parents and children through a variety of scenarios which will delight and revile readers (she feels “disgusted” upon stepping in poo at the zoo, but excited with “ants in her pants” about going to the zoo with her grandparents). It is well worth the read!
Additionally, there are a few key strategies parents can be mindful about practicing with their children to help build the skill of emotional intelligence.
5 Key Strategies to Build Emotional Intelligence
Acknowledge that feelings serve a purpose.
First, the Gottman Institute (2017) reminds us that feelings serve a purpose. Anger cues us in that our rights have been violated. This gears us up to defend ourselves from that happening again. This is NOT a bad thing. Do we not want our children to learn how to advocate and fight for themselves? Developing how to respond to anger while being mindful of boundaries can be a powerful tool for our children to tap into.
View difficult emotions through the lens of a teaching opportunity.
Undoubtedly, our children are going to encounter disappointing and difficult situations throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Take the time to teach them how to respond, rather than reacting as though your child is intentionally inconveniencing you. Your child is not being “hard,” rather he or she is “having a hard time.”
Learn to label emotions with your child.
Tears can occur for many reasons. Maybe your child is disappointed, angry, sad, etc. This is where great picture books and utilizing open-ended questions in your conversations is particularly helpful. Build that emotional vocabulary, and then, rather than making an assumption, give your child a chance to explain without butting in with your thoughts.
Make sure your child feels heard and validated.
Feelings are not “right” or “wrong.” They are just feelings. Even in the moments after a tantrum, before engaging in any sort of discipline, validate your child’s right to feel angry. That opens the floor for discussion about how to handle those “ready to explode” moments.
Use discussions to help your child problem solve.
Instead of hitting or kicking, teach the importance of a self-imposed break or breathing exercises to move from fight or flight back to regulated. All emotions are acceptable; however, certain actions are not. Being disappointed is okay. Telling your mother that you hate her because she cannot fulfill that promise to take you to the park because it started raining is not okay.
Many of us grew up with parents that had parents of the “children are seen and not heard” mentality. While our parents may have made changes in regards to how they parented our generation, it still takes time to shift the conversation to one that celebrates building emotional intelligence in our children.
Attempts to cultivate this skill in your children should be celebrated, and try to lower your expectations away from expecting perfectly regulated calm children, and rather try to take each moment as it comes, looking for opportunities to help our children learn to be resilient and comfortable talking about and handling difficult emotions.
Owens, Meghan. (2017) How to strengthen your child’s emotional intelligence. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/strengthen-childs-emotional-intelligence/
7 Children’s Books that Foster Emotional Intelligence
My Body Sends a Signal by Natalia Maguire
A Little Spot of Feelings by Diane Alber
The Color Monster: A Story about Emotions by Anna Llenas
The Boy with Big, Big Feelings by Britney Winn Lee
Listening to My Body by Gabi Garcia
Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival
The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
About the Author: Brandy Browne
Brandy Browne is an early childhood educator in the United States, as well as a family coach and blogger for UnStuck (www.unstucks.com), her family coaching service aimed at helping families develop positive habits and breaking the cycle of generational trauma and poverty.
Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.