This week I have been thinking about emotional intelligence, which very simply put means the ability to understand emotions – both one’s own feelings and the feelings of those around us – and the ability to manage one’s emotions. Just as one can improve math skills or art skills with practice, emotional intelligence skills can be improved with practice.
To begin supporting the development of emotional intelligence, parents can strive to use a rich feelings vocabulary in order to expose children to many different ways to describe emotions. It can be particularly effective to hypothesize out loud about what your child may be feeling, so that you are not telling your child what emotion is being felt, you’re wondering about it, noticing, and reflecting:
“It looks like you’re really angry. You seem furious right now.”
“I’m noticing that your body is filled with excitement. It looks like you’re thrilled that we’re going to carve pumpkins today.”
“I wonder if you’re feeling frustrated. That project looks really tricky.”
“Look at you all cuddled up with a special blanket, a good book, and your music. It seems as though you are really content right now.”
“I saw how quiet you were at dinner time. I imagine you might be sad and disappointed that the [soccer season, school play, annual field trip] has been cancelled.”
I encourage you to use modeling with your family by describing your own emotions in a way that is an appropriate match for the age and developmental stage of your child(ren). When you are experiencing a difficult emotion, you can model expressing the feeling and also talking through the coping strategies you are going to use to help yourself feel better.
“After the rain storm when we saw that beautiful rainbow I felt overjoyed.”
“I’m feeling lonely since I haven’t seen my friend in a long time, so she is going to come visit us in the yard this afternoon.”
“I’m sad today because I really miss seeing Grammy in person. I’m going to write her a letter. We’ve mostly been using FaceTime and email, but writing a real letter might help me feel better and I think she’ll enjoy receiving some mail.”
“Ugh - I’m so frustrated that I dropped my bowl of soup on the floor. I’m livid! I’m going to take a break in my room for a few minutes and then I’ll be back to make myself a different lunch.”
Another simple and effective way to build awareness of emotions is to talk about the feelings expressed by characters in books you are reading or movies or shows you are watching.
A useful way to encourage communication about emotions is to have family members share their feelings weather forecast (sunny, cloudy, stormy, rainy, etc). This can be a simple way for children and teenagers to let their families know how they are feeling at the start of the day, after school, or at other transition times. A simple, “Today is a cloudy day for me,” lets family members know that a child is sad or grumpy. This strategy can be helpful for identifying patterns (“Seems like Monday mornings are often stormy for you. Would it help if we plan to have your favorite breakfast on Mondays?”), for improving communication and understanding between family members, and for increasing self-awareness.