In the midst of worrying about our kids’ academic success, it’s easy to lose sight of their emotional development. However, research suggests a child’s emotional intelligence is every bit as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Children who learn at a young age how to recognize their feelings and how to deal with them have a better chance to lead successful lives in many aspects (relationships, effectiveness, health, quality of life). Young people with high EQ earn higher grades, stay in school, and make healthier choices. In a trusted environment where emotions are talked about openly, most kids will speak freely about their feelings and are quick to have empathy for their peers. When you teach kids emotional intelligence, you teach them the most essential skills for their success in life, research has shown.
Dr. Marc Brackett, the Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, has developed the RULER program for schools. RULER is an acronym that stands for Recognizing emotions in self and others, Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions, Labeling emotions accurately, Expressing emotions appropriately and Regulating emotions effectively.
The program has been shown to boost student’s emotional intelligence and social skills, productivity, academic performance, leadership skills and attention, while reducing anxiety, depression and instances of bullying between students. RULER creates an all-around positive environment for both students and teachers, with less burnout on both ends.
Here are some guidelines for parents to help their children develop a healthy emotional intelligence:
- Acknowledge your child’s perspective and empathize
Even if you can’t “do anything” about your child’s upsets, empathize. Just being understood helps humans let go of troubling emotions. If your child’s upset seems out of proportion to the situation, remember that we all store up emotions and then let ourselves experience them once we find a safe haven. The same happens in child-parent interactions.
Accept your child’s emotions, rather than denying or minimizing them, which gives children the message that some feelings are shameful or unacceptable. Empathizing doesn’t mean you agree, just that you see the problem from his side, too. He may have to do what you say, but he’s entitled to his own perspective.
Disapproving of your child’s fear or anger won’t stop him/her from having those feelings, but it may well force them to repress such feelings. Unfortunately, repressed feelings don’t fade away, as feelings freely expressed. They are trapped and looking for a way out. Because they aren’t under conscious control, they pop out unmodulated, when a child has nightmares or develops a nervous tic. Instead, parents should teach their kids that all emotions are acceptable but all behaviors are not and some actions must be limited.
- Teach problem solving
Emotions are messages. Teach your child to feel and tolerate them without needing to act on them and once they aren’t in the grip of strong emotion, to problem-solve and act if necessary.
When kids (and adults) feel their emotions are understood and accepted, the feelings lose their charge and begin to dissipate. This leaves an opening for problem solving. Sometimes, kids can do this themselves. Sometimes, they need your help to brainstorm. However, resist the urge to interfere and handle the problem for them unless they ask you to. Show them that you have confidence in their ability to handle it alone.
Emotional intelligence is a skill that your child can develop over time as he or she interacts with you and the world. Teach empathy and model your own emotional intelligence to give your child the best start possible.