How to nurture emotional intelligence in children

12 December 2022 dot 5-minute read
Healthy Mind Live Well Emotional intelligence How to Parenting
Emotional intelligence teaches kids empathy, which means they gain an understanding of how others feel. (Credit: Shutterstock)
"Share your toy" sounds like a simple request, but it brings up a slew of big emotions for toddlers. There's confusion (why would I), anger (I don't want to) and frustration that can lead to a full-on tantrum. And as parents who've been there know, it's a teaching moment for emotional intelligence (EI).
Tantrums get a bad rap because they are seen as misbehaviour – children not getting what they want. But children are still figuring out their feelings and wondering what to do with them, especially when they become overwhelming.
So how can parents help build emotional intelligence skills that lead to self-regulation, empathy and resilience?

1. Be your kids' role model

Parents and other adults can help kids explore their feelings by modelling these five skills of emotional intelligence published in an article for educators in the Young Children journal.
  • Recognise: How am I feeling? 
  • Understand: What happened that led me to feel this way?  
  • Label: What word best describes how I am feeling?  
  • Express: How can I appropriately express my feelings for this time and place?
  • Regulate: What can I do to maintain my feeling (if I want to continue feeling this way) or shift my feeling (if I do not want to continue feeling this way)?

2. Let kids know all emotions matter

Child development experts discourage describing feelings like anger or scared as "bad". Instead, use words like uncomfortable or unpleasant and give them the same importance as emotions like happiness.

3. Help children name their emotions

Play is an excellent emotional intelligence tool for developing social skills. Kids learn how to make friends, take turns, and compromise. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Asking pre-schooler to be aware of their emotions means giving them vocabulary beyond "fine" or "don't feel good". Young Children tells teachers to use a "mood meter' to help kids ages 3 to 8 label their feelings accurately. It starts with four basic emotions, and each one is assigned a colour.
Red = angry (worried, frustrated, scared) 
Blue = sad (tired, disappointed, depressed)
Green = calm (comfortable, ready, relaxed) 
Yellow = happy (confident, brave, energised) 
The colours can help young kids verbalise their feelings better or understand a new word. For example, to introduce the word "disappointed", Young Children suggests saying it in two ways: "Disappointed means feeling sad because something did not happen the way you wanted it to" and "Disappointed is a blue feeling, like sad."

4. Show kids ways to express themselves

Parents can use art activities to help kids who have trouble expressing their feelings. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Even with a mood meter, toddlers can have a tough time verbalising their emotions. These activities can help kids express their pleasant and unpleasant feelings constructively.
  • Play soothing tunes or dance music to channel pent-up emotions, whether anger or joy.
  • Let kids draw and paint their feelings in colours.
  • Do pretend play to show how to act appropriately. What would their character do if a playmate grabbed their toy?

5. Try not to solve kids' problems all the time

Children need to experience – not ignore or avoid – the feelings of disappointment, hurt or anger. For example, kids can cry in frustration when tying their shoelaces for the first time. But they will not learn how to do it themselves if parents lose patience and do it for them.
Nothing is more important to kids than knowing their parents listen and validate their feelings. Being heard with a lot of love makes kids feel secure and strong mentally.
Parents do everything to set their kids up for success, from enrolling them to the best school to protecting their financial wellbeing with life insurance. With emotional intelligence skills, they're sending their kids to adulthood better equipped to handle adversities independently. It's a legacy any parent wants to give their child. 
Young Children. 2017. Using the mood meter to practice emotional intelligence. [online] [Accessed in 15 August 2022]
Understood. Emotional intelligence: What it means for kids. [online] [Accessed in 15 August 2022]
UNICEF. 2020. How to Cultivate the Emotional Intelligence in Children. [online] [Accessed in 15 August 2022]
UNICEF Kid Power. 2022. 10 Strategies for Helping Kids Manage Their Emotions. [online] [Accessed in 15 August 2022]
Goethe. 2019. Self-activity: Colour my emotions. [online] [Accessed in 15 August 2022]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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