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Imagine this scenario: 


Cara is building a tower out of blocks when her sibling zooms by and accidentally bumps into the structure. It falls and crashes to the floor. Instead of yelling or kicking the blocks out of frustration, Cara tells her sibling how sad she is that her structure fell and asks for help to rebuild it. After a couple of minutes, she returns to her blocks with her sibling and begins a new structure.


Cara’s reaction shows that she is developing an important set of skills known as “Emotional Intelligence”. Our emotional intelligence skills allow us to monitor our emotions and those of others, and use emotions appropriately to guide our thinking and actions. Daniel Goleman, author and psychologist who popularized the term emotional intelligence, enumerated five basic parts to emotional intelligence:


  1. Self-awareness- understanding how you feel

  2. Self-regulation- being able to control how you respond to your emotions

  3. Motivation- being able to accomplish your goal without being derailed or distracted by feelings

  4. Empathy- understanding how others feel

  5. Social skills- managing relationships with others. 


Without emotional intelligence, Cara’s reaction may have been very different. She may have pushed her sibling, yelled or thrown a block. She may have given up on her structure completely. Instead,  because of her developing emotional intelligence, she was able to recognize that she felt sad. She expressed her feelings appropriately to her sibling and maintained the motivation and focus to rebuild her structure. 


Research shows that “children with higher emotional intelligence are better able to pay attention, are more engaged in school, have more positive relationships, and are more empathic” (Raver, Garner, & Smith-Donald 2007; Eggum et al, 2011. Source: NAEYC). According to John Gottman, author of Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child, more than IQ, emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings determine success and happiness in all walks of life, including relationships. 


Overall, when we nurture children’s emotional intelligence, we are helping them build the skills to face challenges, respond to situations successfully, and maintain positive relationships with others.


So how can we help young children develop their emotional intelligence?


We can help by supporting young children learn to: 

  1. Recognize their emotions- Understand how they are feeling and what that feeling looks and feels like in their bodies. 

  2. Label their emotions- Use words to name how they are feeling. When children have the vocabulary for their feelings, they are more able to pinpoint emotions accurately and communicate them appropriately.

  3. Regulate their emotions- Think of and use strategies to manage their emotions. 


One of the best ways to do all three of these is by regularly talking to children about their emotions, the experiences that lead to them, as well as engaging in problem-solving whenever they feel big emotions. When we engage children in conversation about their feelings, they learn that their feelings are normal and can be managed. They can grow more attuned to their feelings and feel empowered to face them. 

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