Emotional Intelligence in Young Children: Teaching and Normalizing Feelings
Updated: Sep 29, 2018
Feelings. We all got them. Some are easier to manage than others, but sometimes our feelings can get the best of us. As a parent or caregiver, it is our job to teach our children how to identify and understand their feelings and emotions. Building emotional intelligence in our children early on lays the foundation to help them recognize emotions, name feelings, and learn helpful ways at communicating their experiences. The goal is to assist them in identifying what's going on in their bodies in order to learn effective ways of self-regulating (this will be a future blog post).
So, how do we teach feelings? This can seem tricky, especially if you yourself didn't have anyone supporting you in your journey of building emotional intelligence as a child. One easy way is through books. I absolutely LOVE using books as a tool to teach important concepts and life lessons. Books can simplify ideas, ignite curiosity in children, and give you the language to use to teach emotional intelligence.
Books I love about feelings:
- In My Heart by Jo Witek - Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day by Jaime Lee Curtis
- Wilma Jean the Worry Machine by Julia Cook
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
- How Are You Peeling? Foods with Moods by Saxton Freymann
Another way to teach feelings is talking about your own with your child. In my experience working with parents, I often hear of parents trying to only show positive emotions to their children (i.e. happiness, joy, excitement). They feel like it is more beneficial to hide feelings of anger or sadness from them, often with the intention of protecting them. However, concealing your emotional experiences from your child can prevent them from learning how to express these emotions themselves. A simple way to do this is narrating your experience. If you are frustrated because you spilled the groceries in the car, say it out loud! " I am feeling frustrated because the food spilled", or sharing more vulnerable moments such as, "I am feeling sad today, I miss your auntie". This exposure will build your child's feelings vocabulary and normalize the full range of the emotional spectrum.
Normalizing feelings is another step in building emotional intelligence in young children. The goal is for children to feel empowered with their emotions and a part of this is not feeling shame about how they are feeling. Through direct or indirect responses to their emotions, children might learn that feeling mad or sad is "bad" rather than learning that these emotions are a normal part of human existence. Nine times out of ten when I ask a young child if it is "ok" to be mad, they answer with a big, emphatic "NO!". They associate anger, frustration, and sadness with being bad. This might be related to a parent or caregiver's tolerance of negative emotions, or misuse of language when a child is emoting (i.e. "Stop crying, I don't like it when you cry!", or "Bad boy! You don't yell inside"). This brings us to a an important distinction: there are no bad feelings; it is how we respond to our feelings that can get us into trouble. Giving your child permission to feel their feelings while setting firm and consistent limits on their behavior is the challenge (again, another blog post to come!).
For now, a great placed to start is to remember this: IT'S OK TO FEEL.