In the past, it was believed that a person’s IQ would define how well that person would do in life. However, times have changed. While having a high IQ can be an advantage for some people, to others it becomes an obstacle on their way to well-being and happiness. This puzzling reality has triggered years of assorted research around the topic. The basic truth that came out of it is: Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a better predictor of life-long success than Intelligence Quotient (IQ).
Emotional Intelligence is a combination of being aware of one’s own and others’ emotions and being able to self-regulate and to respond to one’s own and others’ emotions in appropriate ways.
Emotion Coaching is the main strategy – alongside role-modelling – to support children in developing and strengthening their emotional intelligence. It helps children develop resilience, emotional regulation, impulse control, develop social competence, empathy, and works as a buffer against mental health issues and addictions. Thus, from a holistic wellness perspective, emotional intelligence is key.
This article has been written to offer you guidance on how to coach your child’s way to emotional intelligence!
UNDERLYING CONCEPTS PERTAINING TO EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
See emotions as an opportunity
As adults, we tend to see emotions – particularly displays of big, intense emotions such as frustration, sadness and anger – as something negative and we want it to stop. Or, better yet, we would rather it never happened at all!
From an emotion coaching perspective, big emotions are great! These moments offer prime opportunities for us to help our children develop their emotional intelligence.
Be aware of your child’s emotions
Big, intense emotions are easy to detect. Be on the lookout for subtle displays of emotions and use these opportunities also to emotion coach your child. These are teachable moments and emotion coaching is likely to prevent situations from escalating.
There’s no such thing as ‘bad’ emotions
All emotions serve a purpose in our lives at any given moment; even the ones we tend to consider ‘bad’. A key concept to emotion coaching – and to raising emotionally healthy people – is the acceptance of all emotions.
All emotions are natural, human, unavoidable and acceptable. It’s what we do with those emotions – our actions and behaviour – that make a difference. And that’s why emotion coaching our children so they can develop their emotional intelligence, is so important.
There are five distinct steps to Emotion Coaching. The first two steps are based on the underlying concepts discussed above. They cannot be ‘seen’, but they must not be neglected. When you notice an opportunity for emotion coaching, follow these 5 steps:
Step 1: Be aware of your child’s emotions
Notice the big, intense emotions, but also the mild ones.
Step 2: Recognize your child’s emotions as an opportunity to connect
Emotions are an opportunity to connect. Look at your child and empathize with the way they are feeling. Think of similar experiences – on an adult scale – that made you feel in a comparable way. By connecting to the way your child is feeling, you are more inclined to offer support and guidance, as opposed to judgement and disapproval.
Step 3: Acknowledge the emotions and help your child verbalize them
Labelling emotions is an important part of developing emotional intelligence. Infants and young toddlers rely more on adults to help them label emotions by naming the feelings. You may help by saying things such as, “You seem really angry!”, “Wow, it looks like that truck not moving made you really frustrated”, “I see that you felt really annoyed at Johnny for taking your toy away”.
For slightly older children, you could ask questions such as: “Are you feeling mad or sad?”, “Are you feeling sad or scared?”, “Did somebody hurt your feelings?”.
Mirror the emotion = Our brains have a thing called “mirror neurons”, which play a pivotal role in children’s ability to develop empathy and resilience. When you talk to children about their emotions, “mirror” those emotions on your own face expression and the way to talk. This will activate children’s “mirror neurons”.
Step 4: Communicate empathy and understanding
Empathize with the children’s feelings, even when their reaction doesn’t make sense to you. Remember that each person is unique and has different perspectives on what they go through. We cannot decide what other people feel or think. The same is true for our youngest people. Due to their level of development, young children feel everything with higher intensity than we adults do, and they have not yet developed the physical brain structures to regulate high intensity emotions.
To communicate empathy and understanding, you may use sentences such as: “That scratch must really hurt”, “I can see you are really sad because you miss your mom. I get really sad when I miss people I love too.”, “It looks like you got really frustrated when he took the toy away from you. I would get mad too”
Use Empathic Statements = Name the feeling + Validate the feeling
Offer children a hug. Young children communicate and connect through the right hemisphere of their brain; we ‘speak their language’ when we name and describe their feelings, and through physical touch.
Step 5: Set Limits (if there was misbehaviour) and Problem-Solve
Whenever children struggle either with emotions or challenging situations, our tendency as caregivers is to go straight to setting limits and/or problem solving. However, this isn’t enough if we want to help children develop their emotional intelligence. There are many reasons why setting limits and problem solving are only mentioned as the final emotion coaching step. Each of the 5 steps plays an important role.
When you are setting limits and/or problem-solving, the words that you say will depend on the age of the child that you are speaking with. Here are some examples of limit setting: “I see you’re annoyed, but I can’t let you hit. Be gentle, please”, “You got really angry at Johnny for taking your toy. It’s okay to feel angry, but it’s not okay to hurt people”, “Wow, you look so excited that you feel like running around. That’s great! I’m scared you might get hurt, though. Let’s walk for now and you can run once we go outside”, “I can see that you feel like playing on your own right now; you got angry at Sam for joining you. That’s okay. We need to keep everyone safe, though. So, instead of pushing him away, what could we do next time?”
You can problem-solve with children when a situation brings an undesirable behaviour, such as the previous example. Here are some other examples of problem-solving: “Sammy and Johnny, I see that both of you want to play with the same truck. I see both of you pulling on it and it looks like you are both starting to get upset. Two people and one truck. What are you going to do?”.
“Wow, Julia, I can tell you are feeling really annoyed with me because I’m asking you to put your boots on. You really don’t want to wear your boots. I get that. We all need to go outside, and to go outside we need boots on. What do you suggest we do?”
CONSIDERATIONS & HELPFUL TIPS
Imagination is a big part of young children’s lives and it helps them communicate. If it looks like a child has emotions that need to be released and they can’t find a way to do it, you can help them by using their imagination. With a puppet, a soft toy, or a doll, you can say, for instance “This is Sam. He’s feeling really angry today. What do you think happened to him?”
Crying is a natural part of emotion regulation and it is necessary at times. Crying releases the hormones that help us find balance again in a healthy way. If a child needs to cry and is stopped / distracted, it might mean that the brain will continue not fully regulated and not in full learning capacity, until an even bigger meltdown happens at a later time; it may also show in many forms of undesirable behaviour. Accept crying for the helpful healing mechanism it is, and allow your child to cry while being there for them.
Whenever you make a mistake, acknowledge it and apologize. It will teach children that people make mistakes and it is okay; it’s human. However, when it happens, we apologize and make it right.
Children have the right to ‘save face’; they need their own dignity. Sometimes children will do what we asked them to in a slightly different way, or they will wait a few seconds before following your instructions to feel like they have some control over their decisions. That’s okay.
Respect children’s individuality and preferences. Each child is unique and they don’t have to be like us or exactly the way we want them to be. If we value their uniqueness, they will learn to value themselves just as they are, too. For instance, if a child says “I don’t like rice”, instead of dismissing it by saying “Rice is delicious!”, you can say, “Oh, don’t you? I like it. I think it’s delicious” (stated as your opinion, not the ultimate truth). If a child has a small scratch and is crying because of it, instead of saying “You don’t need to cry; it’s just a small scratch!”, you may say “Wow, even a small scratch can really hurt”.
Remember that the children have the right to their own preferences and feelings. For more information and guidance on how to respond to challenging behaviour, please read the article “How to Respond to Children’s Challenging Behaviours” in our exclusive family resource library.
If you have any questions, would like further clarification or to discuss specific situations, please don’t hesitate to contact our Bambini Learning Group personnel.
Bambini Learning Group is a Reggio-inspired, holistic child care program located in Edmonton, Alberta. Their vision is to inspire families to live healthier, more meaningful lives. Through innovative, holistic, and supportive resources, Bambini is helping children live the authentic childhood they deserve. New locations coming soon! Contact Bambini for more information about their unique, holistic child care program at [email protected], or book a tour to see Bambini for yourself!
Fabiana Gunschnigg is the Executive Director of Bambini Learning Group. She has been working in the early childhood field for over 15 years. She’s originally from Brazil and then moved to New Zealand in 2007, where she completed her Early Childhood Education and received her diploma in teaching. Fabiana has worked with various ages of children, in numerous programs, within various roles from teacher to assistant manager. She has a passion for early childhood and you can see this in her everyday contributions to Bambini.