Let’s begin with two well-established premises and a conclusion:
1st premise: A huge amount of brain development occurs in the first three years of life.
2nd premise: People with high emotional intelligence find it easier to be successful in life. They have better mental health, job performance, and leadership skills.
Conclusion: It is important to help young children begin to develop their emotional intelligence in the early years.
Do you know how to help your young child develop emotional intelligence?
In my last post, I focused on some simple ways to support the young child’s development of emotional intelligence. Specifically, I described some ways that you can help them develop self-awareness and self-control: a) allow them to experience the full range of emotions and practice coping with them without trying to change how they feel; and b) strive to maintain order and predictability in the young child’s environment to minimize the stress on them while they’re learning and growing so much.
I also touched on a very simple but very important method for helping children develop emotional intelligence– acknowledge and name their feelings– which I will address further here.
Remember that a big part of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Emotionally intelligent people have good self-awareness. They understand themselves well. When they are upset, they are able to understand why. This makes it a lot easier to cope with upset feelings.
On the other hand, people who lack self-awareness don’t have any way of knowing how to make things better. They tend to either blame others for their upsetting feelings or become helpless and depressed when experiencing hurt feelings or upset.
Another big part of emotional intelligence is self-management or self-control. Emotionally intelligent people understand their feelings and manage them well, without hurting themselves or others.
On the other hand, people who lack self-management skills tend to act-out their feelings, taking out their sadness, frustration, or anger on other people. Adults who act-out their feelings tend to seem quite immature and may even be viewed as emotionally unbalanced.
Another simple way to help the young child development self-awareness and self-management skills is to acknowledge and name their feelings.
This is very simple, yet it is much more important and valuable than many people realize. Have you ever noticed that, when you’re upset and someone listens and validates your feelings, “well, of course you feel that way!,” it often helps you calm down? Or how different it feels when someone tries to talk you out of your feelings, “you shouldn’t be upset about that?” That almost never makes the upset disappear; rather, it compounds your upset. Now you’re also upset with the person who told you that you shouldn’t be feeling that way!
When your child hears you articulate their feelings, they feel that someone understands what they feel inside. That already makes them feel calmer. They may have felt like they were going to explode, but your calmly naming their feeling makes it clear it’s not a disaster. It helps the child to gain a greater understanding of what they’re feeling and it also strengthens their bond with you. It’s a win-win, and much more valuable than most people realize.
It is very valuable and, admittedly, easiest to acknowledge and name their happy feelings.
“You were so happy to see Daddy drive up.”
“You think the dog is so funny when he scratches behind his ear.”
“You felt so proud of that tower you built.”
It can be more of a challenge to acknowledge and name their less positive feelings, such as hurt, anger, or frustration; yet these are particularly valuable opportunities to help your child develop emotional intelligence. Try to be neutral, just describing what they’re feeling, without trying to fix it.
“You felt hurt when your brother didn’t want to play with you.”
“You’re frustrated that I won’t buy that toy for you.”
It’s much more difficult to manage our feelings when we don’t understand them. Acknowledging and naming their feelings is very helpful to your child’s emotional development.
Think about a time you were upset, but you weren’t sure why. Maybe you had to think back over a conversation that continued to bother you later, and ask yourself, “What happened that I keep going over and over that conversation? Why am I upset?” It’s very difficult to get over the upset if you don’t know where it’s coming from.
So, with your baby, toddler, or young child, take the chance to name their feelings on a regular basis. Trust that this is beneficial, even though it doesn’t make the feelings automatically change.
Sometimes parents ask me “What if I get it wrong?” As a psychologist and a coach, I can tell you it happens. It annoys a person to have their feelings mislabeled, but it’s not the end of the world. If you stay engaged in a dialogue, listening for what they are feeling, there’s no real harm done if you don’t always get it right.
“You were pretty frustrated…”
“I wasn’t FRUSTRATED, I was MAD!!”
“Oh, yes, I can see that mad is a better word for it. You were quite angry when that happened.”
Call to Action: Try it this week! Just name your child’s feelings, calmly, without trying to change them. I will be interested to hear what you learn.
By Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., Born for Brilliance Parent Coach
NEW BOOK COMING OUT IN FEBRUARY! I am so excited that my first book about toddlers is due to be published in February, 2016. Sign up for my email list to get more information.