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15 ways to make your children more emotionally intelligent

Lounge talks to three parenting coaches to understand how one can develop their child's emotional intelligence 

Emotional intelligence is one of the building blocks of children's socio-emotional development
Emotional intelligence is one of the building blocks of children's socio-emotional development (Unsplash)

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There has been a lot of chatter over lowering levels of emotional quotient (EQ) in people these days. With the advent of technology, we've ever emphasised dealing with our feelings in healthy ways. We never learnt how to deal with the ever-increasing levels of stress and anxiety that mark our present-day lives. Our increasing reliance on technology and social media for communication against face-to-face interaction has contributed to the deterioration of social and emotional skills that are so crucial to interpersonal relationships and future academic and career success.

Another important reason why society never placed emphasis on EQ is that IQ was always given so much importance, and rightly so. But research over the last two decades has demonstrated that IQ is not the only determinant of success in life. 

Emotional intelligence is one of the building blocks of children's socio-emotional development. Study after study has shown that children with high EQs earn better grades, stay in school longer and make healthier choices overall (for example, they are less likely to bunk classes or smoke); teachers also report that high-EQ students are more cooperative and make better leaders in the classroom.

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As a child grows into a teen and then an adult, EQ becomes tied to internal motivation and self-regulation. It governs how they make decisions or harnesses their thoughts and feelings to cope with stress, solve problems and pursue goals. For example, well-developed EQ is personified in the student who can manage their time to complete homework assignments, study for tests, and apply to college, all while successfully juggling their family and peer relationships. 

Mint talks to renowned counsellors and parenting coaches about how parents can ensure that EQ is built into their children's lives. 

Ankita Khanna, psychologist & arts-based therapist, Children First, Gurgaon

Development happens in an integrated way. This essentially means that if we are only focusing on cognitive, motor or social development, without paying much attention to also developing emotional skills, it can create obstacles in the development of other domains as well. Imagine a social scenario in which we want our child to have a good experience; say, attending a birthday party. The child will do well and have fun if they can walk and play with ease, not feel overwhelmed by the many social connections and overtures, and also if they have good emotional regulation skills that allow them to bounce back easily from minor discomfort and disappointments along the way.

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  1. Create a healthy environment for discussing emotions: Emotional intelligence is a lot about pausing and tuning in to our own emotions and experiences. The next step would be to discuss these honestly with our partners and our children, thus creating an open environment that allows every person in the family to speak about emotions freely.
  2. Teach children to be comfortable with their emotions: Parents must constantly model being in touch with and comfortable with our own emotions.
  3. Have honest conversations: Parents must also work on creating opportunities in everyday life to speak about the good, the bad and the ugly- without feeling the need to hush unpleasant emotions and experiences- everyday life events, TV shows, books and cartoons offer many such opportunities.
  4. Have open forums: This is the most important. Parents must make efforts to make the home an open space for dialogue and discussion that allows us to articulate confusions and dilemmas and take help from one another as a family.

Dr Meghna Singhal, clinical psychologist, parenting coach and YouTuber @The Therapist Mommy

  1. Work on your own EQ: Parents can work on their own EQ by becoming more aware of and expressing their feelings in healthy ways. For example, when I'm stressed, instead of binge-watching Netflix or reaching for that tub of ice cream, could I practice yoga? Could I journal? Could I talk to my family? Could I engage myself in a hobby? When I'm angry, instead of lashing out at my partner or kids, could I calm myself down by taking some deep breaths? Could I listen to some soothing music? Could I practice more effective ways of putting my point across? Parents' emotional intelligence is super important to build because their relationship with their emotions provides direct modelling to the kids.
  2. Practice emotion coaching: Parents can instil high EQ in their children by practising emotion coaching. This involves being cued into your child's (and your own) feelings, helping your child identify and name their feelings, and enabling emotional regulation. Have everyday conversations about feelings (Not just "how was your day" but things like "what was one kind thing you did today?" or "When you forgot your homework at home, how did you feel?")
  3. Don't be dismissive: Don't dismiss or criticise their child's feelings. Do not use terms such as "Don't be such a cry baby" but instead say things like "Ohh, you're upset because your brother knocked down your tower! Do you want a hug?"). Try to go by the mantra- 'All feelings are okay" (even though you understand and convey to your child that some behaviours are not okay),
  4. View difficult feelings differently: View your children's difficult feelings as opportunities to empathise, connect, and teach. Discipline by teaching and not punishing. Don't yell, ignore, or distract but focus on setting limits and boundaries and the consequences of breaking those boundaries, respectfully.
  5. Empower your children: Empower their children to figure out strategies for coping with emotionally difficult situations. Read books about feelings by authors such as  Jayneen Sanders and Todd Parr.

Jagruti Wandrekar, consultant psychologist and co-founder at Psychratic, Mumbai

  1. Name feelings from a young age: Parents must start teaching children to identify and name their feelings from a very young age. I would recommend doing this from the age of 2.
  2. Listen to your children: Develop good active listening skills as parents so that you try to understand your child's point of view when they are distressed (rather than dismissing it), even when there is a parent-child conflict.
  3. Validate and explore feelings: Parents must try helping children to explore their feelings and validating them so that children can better understand themselves.
  4. Set healthy coping mechanisms: Instead of pushing a coping mechanism, try discussing healthy and unhealthy ways of regulating and coping with feelings with children. Make them comfortable with using those mechanisms.
  5. Facilitate dialogue: Parents must always practice having a two-way dialogue about feelings and modelling healthy emotional expression. You cannot yell and hit children when you are angry and expect your children to learn anger management. You cannot avoid all emotional conversations and expect children to share their feelings with you. You cannot dismiss their feelings if they are upset by saying don't cry; you are being too sensitive, and then be surprised when they don't have healthy coping strategies.

Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based psychotherapist

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