Parents want their kids to be a lot of things; being intelligent tops the list. In this rat race of academic success and achievements, parents miss out on teaching their kids to be emotionally intelligent. For kids to be and feel happy and grow up to be well-rounded adults, it is important to build a strong foundation and raise them to be emotionally aware and able to manage their feelings.
Two leading psychologists talk about why it is important to raise kids to be more emotionally aware and how to go about it.
The importance of raising emotionally healthy children
If an individual, whether a kid or an adult, is not emotionally attuned, it is difficult for them to form connections with others, whether it is with friends, partner, or colleagues. High emotional intelligence is imperative for one to get along with people and build an empathetic bond with them. Inculcating this becomes a lot easier if children can emulate the behaviour from their parents and close family members.
Making children feel they are heard and their opinion matters is at the crux of raising emotionally intelligent children. It is instrumental in helping them form a strong sense of self and individuality and deal with life situations in a more objective way.
Help the child with emotional recognition and labelling
Parents can start by helping their children recognise and label their specific emotions and feelings, instead of using generic terms like ‘not good’ 'fine' in response to ‘How are you?’. They should teach them to explore the range of emotions and say exactly how they’re feeling—it could be happy, sad, angry, mad, annoyed, grumpy, frustrated, etc. The more they add these words to their vocabulary to describe their feelings, the more nuanced their understanding of emotions will become, and they will be able to better communicate.
Play a role in helping the kid develop problem-solving skills
Parents shouldn’t want to solve their children's problems for them; it’s important to prepare them for the outside world so their confidence and self-esteem don’t take a hit when they have to deal with life situations by themselves. Parents can achieve this by encouraging the child to brainstorm and play games that challenge them with difficulties, thus empowering them to find constructive and creative solutions. Parents can assist their children and direct them without imposing their thoughts and solutions on them.
They should also work towards creating a non-judgmental, safe space for the child, where they can freely communicate their thoughts and not be afraid of making mistakes.
Teach the kid various techniques to manage their emotions
Expressing feelings in a healthy, constructive way is an important trait that needs to be developed in kids from childhood. However, it is equally important to teach them to regulate their emotions, i.e. enabling them to identify and differentiate between their feelings, and practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques to not feel overwhelmed every time life throws something at them. An easy and efficient way to teach kids this is by modelling the behaviour. For example, if parents are courteous with the service staff, kids will behave similarly.
What not to do
The don’ts are as important as the dos, if not more. Parents must not gaslight their children or emotionally manipulate them to get them to believe what they are saying. At their age, everything that happens to children matters, but if parents undermine their experience, they may feel feel no one understands them or their feelings don't matter. Parents should not trivialise the issue as children will restrict themselves to express.
Signs that your child is growing up to be emotionally intelligent
An early indicator of your child being emotionally intelligent is that they are a ‘healthy’ member of society. They have good peer-peer interactions, are able to express themselves without getting overwhelmed, can deal with age-appropriate adversities and know that it is not the end of the world when things don’t go their way. Their behaviour is the clearest indicator—from being kind to elders to going out of their way to help their friends, these small gestures make a big difference and go a long way in developing emotional intelligence.
Inputs by Sherene Aftab, founder of Serene Hour Counselling & Career Advice Consultancy, Mehezabin Dordi, clinical psychologist, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai