Emotional Intelligence is defined as the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions, as well as influence the emotions of others from the place of compassion.
Professionally trained healer Amy Wilder defines it this way: being aware of emotions, tracking emotions in your body and identifying and naming those emotions so you can communicate them.
However you define it, the skill of emotional intelligence is one that will help children to be better learners. When children can’t process or control their emotions, it interferes with the learning process. On the other hand, when children are able to deal with life situations in an appropriate way, this creates resilience, and they are able to bounce back and continue with their education. So how do we create emotional intelligence in children? How do we help them build this skill?
4 Ways to foster emotional intelligence in children
When children are struggling, parents and teachers can work to empathize with them. Empathizing means that you understand and even share the feelings of the child. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have had the exact same situation, but it does mean that you put yourself in the child’s situation. This can be especially helpful to children, who aren’t always able to express their emotions. By empathizing with a child, caregivers can help the child find the words to express their own emotions. Sometimes, this is all it takes for a child to be able to process the situation- knowing that another person cares.
Allow emotions; Manage behavior
Amy Wilder says that when she works with children she asks the question, "Is it bad to be angry?" Children all say yes. This is an interesting observation. We will all be angry at times; we need to help children understand that it is acceptable to feel their emotions. We also need to help them understand what to do with those emotions. For instance, we can explain, “it’s okay to feel angry, but it’s not okay to hit.”
This will help children develop the skill of emotional intelligence because they will be able to feel emotion, recognize emotion, and then control their behavior.
Because children often struggle to put words to their feelings, it can be easy to jump in and talk, and much harder to be still and listen. Resist the urge to talk a child out of their feelings, and work instead to understand those feelings. Adults can help by rephrasing and helping the child find the words to express themselves. For example, an adult could say, “So you’re saying that you felt sad when Jill called you a name?” This kind of question will help a child develop emotional intelligence, whereas saying something like, “Words don’t hurt” or “Jill is a bully” doesn’t acknowledge the feelings and emotions of a child.
How do we act when things are going wrong? Do we try to hide all emotion from children, or do we acknowledge that we too have emotions that we need to deal with? Showing children that adults have emotions, and have to work to process those as well, really models the kind of emotional intelligence we want children to develop.
We can deliberately model that our emotions don’t control our behavior. Just because we are angry, for example, we don’t have to yell. And adult could talk through their emotions, saying, “I am very angry right now, so I am going to take some deep breaths so that I don’t yell.” This shows the kind of emotional control we hope our children will develop over time as well.
Emotional Intelligence is a Process
Emotional intelligence is a process that each of us can work to learn and develop. Children who are taught and trained in how to process, understand and appropriately express their emotions will be better able to thrive in a learning environment.