How and When Children Develop Emotional Intelligence and Self-Control

How and When Children Develop Emotional Intelligence and Self-Control

Developing emotional intelligence starts in early childhood. Every interaction with parents, caregivers, sibblings and friends gives your child information about their emotional world.

Your parenting choices can influence your child’s emotional development.

Your child’s emotional awareness and how they handle feelings can impact lifelong happiness and wellbeing.  

Growing up healthy goes beyond eating a well-balanced diet, sleeping, having playmates and getting an education.

Feeling loved and cared for are vital to your child’s well-being.

An emotionally intelligent child can recognize a full range of feelings.

What’s more, emotional intelligence allows your child to respond well to how other people are feeling.

For a child to be able to show empathy, care and kindness, they must understand what that is, and what it feels like.

To manage anger, frustration and overwhelm your child will need practice and examples on how to handle emotionally charged moments.

There are many benefits to learning about and supporting your child’s emotional development.

Your child’s emotional intelligence and self control go hand in hand.

Sad, mad or glad?

Does your child typically tell you how they are feeling, melt into a pile of tears or rage loudly when angry? Maybe your child has tantrums or screams a lot?

Most children that are under the age of six actually do a mix of all of the above.

In the early years it takes a lot of practice to express feelings in a clear way, consistently.

Strong feelings aren’t meant to be an inconvinience, they are actually a path towards learning and growing.

Minor social conflicts, i.e. having a hard time sharing with a friend, a fight with a sibling or arguing with you is actually a good opportunity for developing good social coping skills.

It’s normal for young children to experience feelings in an intense way.

The best thing you can do as a parent is to be prepared to help your child learn how to calm down instead of meltdown.

Here’s Why Emotional Intelligence Matters To Your Growing Child

When children are able to recognize their own emotions, they are more likely to be able to express what they need in a calm way.

For parents this is good news because it not only promotes healthy development it also means less tantrums, less power struggles and less whining.

The Gottman institute shows that children with emotional intelligence are also physically healthier, get along with peers and do better in school. Overall, emotional intelligence plays a key role in your child’s well-being.

This doesn’t mean that a floppy child on the supermarket floor or the screaming teen has no emotional intelligence.

Your child’s growing brain needs a lot of support to make good choices.

It’s possible, in fact most likely that as your child grows and learns to handle their feelings they will experience moments of total overwhelm.

Let’s look at some important signs of emerging emotional intelligence

Here are some ways in which you can assses if your child’s emotional intelligence is developing:

  • Your child can talk about their own feelings:
    • “Mommy, I am so happy!”
    • “Hey, I feel mad right now.”
    • “I am scared of the spider.”
    • “I don’t like this. No thank you.”
  • Your child is able to associate feelings and actions:
    • “When I am happy I like to laugh”
    • “He is crying because he is sad”
    • “I hit because I was angry”
    • “I am hiding because I am scared
  • Your child talks about their own feelings and feelings of other people
    • “I feel happy when you smile dad”
    • “I think Abby is sad because I didn’t want to share”
    • “Mom laughs when I tell funny jokes”

Emotional vocabulary and self regulation takes time to develop.

Your influence as a parent or caregiver can be quite positive towards emotional development.

Here are some ways you can help your child understand and manage feelings and emotions as they grow:

Connect the Emotional Dots

Discuss feelings and emotions with your child when it makes sense.

For example, if your child is crying, describe what you observed “You didn’t want to share, that made you sad and now you are crying.”

Simple questions that invite your child to think about their own feelings can be a great way to create emotional awareness.

Here are some examples of questions you can ask your child:

  • What made you happy today?
  • Did anything make you sad today?
  • Do you want to talk about how you are feeling?
  • Is something the matter? Do you want to talk about it?

By offering your child a chance to connect how they feel with how they are reacting they can start to connect the emotional dots.

Keep in mind your child’s unique personality and if they are generally open to answering questions. It’s alright to respect their needs should they not want to answer you.

“Name it to Tame It”

Research on emotional intelligence shows benefits for children to talk about the full circle of having emotions, feeling emotions, and cognitively identifying emotions.  

For example, If a child can say they are mad (name their feelings), they are less likely to spiral into a tantrum.

 Dr. Dan Siegel, author of The Whole Brain Child and No Drama Discipline, talks about naming emotions to tame the emotions.

The process of identifying an emotion helps children develop the ability to let emotions inform them of what they are feeling instead of overwhelming them with big reactions.

The questions from above can open the path towards naming and taming emotions.

Simply staying close by or taking a time in is another option if your child isn’t ready to talk about how they are feeling yet.

Accept all Feelings

Everyone’s feelings and reactions are different and valid. Avoid telling your child how they should feel.

Accepting your child’s feelings is not the same as accepting all of their behaviors. If you keep an open mind, and try to understand how and what your child is feeling you will be providing safety your child needs in order to make good choices.

Think back to the “Name it to tame it” strategy for help on accepting your child’s feelings.

If your child is angry, reflect that back to them. It might sound like:

“You seem to be angry or upset about something” or “Are you angry right now?”

Follow that up with words that reassure your child you want to help them.

Also, there isn’t a perfect script you need to follow. Just show genuine interest in helping your child understand themselves and the situation.

Taking this extra step can open up an opportunity for your child to name and tame those feelings.

Understanding a child’s authentic feelings is much better than insisting they must be feeling a certain way. Beware of telling your child how they must feel.

Stay curious, calm and ready to coach your child through whatever it is that they are feeling. Even if it seems silly or minor to you, for your child their feelings are real and should be respected.

Acepting that your child must expeirence a full range of emotions directly impacts the development of their emotional intelligence.

Discipline in a Positive Way

One of the most influential ways to teach your child how to control their feelings and behaviors is to be a positive role model.

  • Keep your cool when you need to address misbehavior.
  • Take calming breaks instead of yelling or lashing out.
  • Name and tame your own feelings.
  • Look for solutions instead of punishing ripetitive problems.
  • Have faith in your child’s ability to feel her feelings fully.
  • Learn and use positive discipline parenting tools.

If you discipline your child in a positive way, choosing solutions over yelling and punishments you are modeling what emotional inteligence and self-regulation is all about.

It’s unfair to expect children to be better at regulating their feelings then the adults in their own home.

Being able to interact well with other people is a key component of emotional intelligence.

You can directly influence this by making sure your child has positive interactions at home.

This does not mean pampering your child and making sure they are happy all the time.

On the contrary, it means you have the responsibility of creating an environment that allows your child to feel and express a full range of emotions and learn from those interactions.

Setting clear limits and boundaries is always part of a smart and well balanced parenting strategy.

Emotion coaching and empathy from you goes a long way.

 Keep in mind: When children become frustrated, anxious, angry or sad, more than anything they need empathy and reassurance that you love them.

If you are worried your child is often angry, aggressive or out of control, take a look at this guide to anger and agression in the early years and here are tips on how children learn to calm down.

For children that have stopped listening to you or don’t care about consequences, take a look at this guide on what to do when consequences have stopped working.

Learn more about why patience and warmth are more effective at changing your child’s behavior.

Peace & Be Well,

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

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