Teaching emotional intelligence is an enormously important thing for a parent to do. But how? For younger kids, it’s all about giving them the language to conceptualize and communicate about their experiences. This is worth repeating: kids must acquire language tools that will allow them to (a) conceptualize their experiences, and (b) share/communicate about them-and the child’s emotions are a very important part of their experience. So, it’s important to teach this stuff, and luckily, it’s also pretty easy.
Step 1: Identify your own most common emotions. You can choose from a very wide variety of emotions (happy, annoyed, silly, angry, loving, sad, excited, frustrated, anxious/worried, joyous), but pick 3 basic ones to start.
Step 2: Start describing your own emotions, and say why you are feeling them. (out loud, in front of your child.) Deliver this information in an emotionally neutral way, as much as possible. It may help if you first identify predictable times/events when you feel those feelings, so that you’ll be prepared with a bit of a script. (For example: annoyance while driving, joy at the end-of-the-day-reunions, feeling silly or happy during playtimes…)
Step 3: At essentially the same time, begin reflecting for your child what emotions you think they might be feeling at any given moment. For example: “Ooh, you look really frustrated.” or “You look like you’re feeling proud of yourself for that!” If you have a child with a good attention span for discussion, you could add in an extra sentence that clarifies what s/he was doing that suggested a particular emotion. For example: “You’re yanking on that strap and yelling-I can tell that you are really frustrated!” Also at this stage-start describing emotions you observe in other people around you. “Look Susie, Billy is crying. He feels sad because you grabbed his toy.” Or, “Wow, John, look at Grandma’s big smile-you really made her feel happy when you said that.” (Note: for those of you thinking: “You can’t make anyone feel a particular emotion… I agree with you-but this is a conversation with a small child. They’re learning vocabulary and observational skills. We’ll save the higher level self-actualization lesson for 4th grade. ;^) )
Step 4: After you’ve been describing your own emotions and reflecting your child’s emotions for her/him for a few weeks, start asking your child if they are feeling a particular emotion. For example: Oh, “did that loud noise scare you?” or “Are you feeling angry that I took that away from you?” The goal here is simply to support their understanding and use of emotional vocabulary.
Step 5/Level 2: Once your child begins to use emotions in their daily vocabulary, give yourself a pat on the back! Annnddd… now you’re ready for level two… time to begin talking about how you manage your emotions. For example, you might say: “When I feel scared, I take a deep breath and talk about it with someone I love.” Or “When I feel angry, I take a deep breath, close my eyes and count to 10.” (side note: taking a deep breath is both an ancient wisdom and a modern miracle-a technique that we’ve know about for eons, and one that modern research repeatedly finds to be effective in managing many things.) Anyway, this conversation teaches your child some all-important coping skills (for dealing with the inevitable stressors of life) while underscoring the message that you are an empathetic and supportive parent.)
Allright, there ya go! Good luck, and take care.
Update: a silly (but cool!) graphic to illustrate this entry: