Emotional intelligence (EQ) plays a key role in children's ability to handle stress, make suitable peer relationships, get along at home, develop a well-balanced outlook on life, and to reach their academic potential at school. The term EQ encompasses five characteristics and abilities listed below. In describing the components of EQ below, I provide examples of ways to talk to your kids to help them gain these skills. Remember that children and teens learn what they live. Use these examples to model, coach, and inspire your children to greater emotional awareness, flexibility, and maturity:
1. Self-awareness- EQ means knowing your emotions, recognizing feelings as they occur, and discriminating between them. You can help your child gain self-awareness by sharing your own feelings and validating how your child is feeling as well. For example you may say, "I feel frustrated but I can also see how upset you are too, and that you are feeling that I am not listening to you."
2. Mood management- Individuals with strong EQ learn ways to handle their feelings so that they're relevant to the current situation with appropriate reactions. Recently, a child in my office was pleasantly surprised during a family therapy session when I had him interview both his mother and father about how they manage their stress. Both parents were transparent, within reason, about how they used relaxation, positive self-talk, and distraction strategies to manage stress. This helped the child feel less alone and more supported in working on managing his own emotions. Sharing the following with your child will help model that managing emotions is an active process that requires awareness and effort: “I want to yell less and am working on this by thinking more before I react. Please let me know if you notice a difference.”
3. Self-motivation- Managing negative feelings is crucial to be able to push through frustrations and setbacks. Self-motivation is a part of EQ that refers to "gathering up" your feelings and directing yourself toward a goal, despite self-doubt, inertia, and impulsiveness. One suggestion I like is to coach your child to use the word, "nevertheless" to overcome hurdles with motivation. For example, if your child complains that he does not want to do his homework, you might say, “I hear you, I have my times of feeling little motivation, too. When I don’t particularly feel like going to work, I remind myself that I may not want to go but, nevertheless, I will feel better about myself once I push through and get there.”
4. Empathy- I have never heard an adult reflect on his or her childhood and complain that their parents were too understanding. Usually, I hear complaints about feeling misunderstood or not understood at all. Empathy encompasses that crucial part of EQ to help your child recognize feelings and tune into their verbal and nonverbal cues of others. To help model this you could reflect it with a statement like, “I see you are disappointed that you did not make the team. If you want to talk about it at any time, I’m here to listen."
5. Managing relationships- The ability to negotiate interpersonal interaction, manage conflicts and negotiate with others is the final part of EQ. Helping your child gaining skill in this area will serve him or her well in learning how to develop deep, trusting, relationships. You can help your child gain skills in managing relationships by discussing with them what works and does not work in their relationships. Be sure to do this in a nonjudgmental manner.
The more you can coach your child to be more emotionally intelligent, the more likely your child will get along better with friends, have fewer behavior problems, and be better able to deal with challenges. Coaching your child as suggested above with help your child over all to experience fewer negative feelings and more positive feelings. While emotionally intelligent kids still get sad, angry, or scared under difficult circumstances, they are better able to calm down and solve problems. Coaching our children to have strong EQ, keeps us, as parents, practicing this crucial skill too. The more we can help our children gain EQ, the stronger we develop it in ourselves.
Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist, personal and executive coach, and motivational speaker in the greater Philadelphia area. He has been on the Today Show, National Public Radio, and has written four popular books, including 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child and Liking The Child You Love.
You can also follow Dr. Jeff on Twitter.