How do you react to stressful situations? I will be the first to admit that my anxiety is clearly linked to my inability to effectively manage my emotions during stress. I am famous for catastrophizing and overreacting. Growing up, I was always known as the one who would freak out all the time. Today, I know that I just needed to develop my emotional intelligence. It doesn’t come naturally and it’s something I will continue to work on throughout my life, but if I can give my children these tools much earlier on in life, I hope that they won’t have to freak out as much as I did.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ) is the —. It is a powerful skill that can help us better understand ourselves, overcome challenges, and build strong relationships with others. People with a high EQ can tolerate and constructively manage challenging feelings like sadness, anger, and fear. They also accept themselves and empathize with others. Fortunately, EQ is a skill that we can learn at any time in our lives, even if we were not taught it by our parents and teachers.

How Does Emotional Intelligence Impact Anxiety?

Children with higher EQ have less anxiety and depression, according to Wendy Baron of the Chopra Center. “When we’re stressed, anxious, or triggered, our brain and nervous system react immediately,” she explains. “Our amygdala sounds the alarm as our brain goes into a psychological state of flight, fight, or freeze. The ability to think, reason, and make rational decisions decreases. And our emotional grounded-ness goes right out the window. Add all this to a small child with big feelings, and you’ve got the recipe for an emotional firestorm–or as we parents know it, a tantrum of colossal proportions.”

EQ gives children the ability to respond rather than react. By learning to express emotions, listen actively, and consider multiple perspectives, your children will develop more positive, caring, respectful relationships with others; resolve conflicts more easily; and become less stressed and more optimistic. When children are able to effectively manage their emotions related to stress and anxiety, they can regulate their nervous system so they can stay happy and healthy.

What’s even more fascinating is that the ability to manage emotions in a healthy way can predict our quality of life, even more so than our IQ. An Aha! Parenting article discussed how a 2011 British study that followed individuals for fifty years (from birth to adulthood) concluded that success and happiness in life was strongly correlated to EQ. Emotional health leads to better mental and physical health, more academic success, and happier relationships.

What Can We Do To Raise Emotionally Intelligent Kids?

As parents, we can take several steps to help our children develop stronger EQ. Remember that our children view us as role models. So, we can try as hard as possible to pass along these tools, but if we don’t practice EQ ourselves, then how can we expect our children to?

Here are 7 ways we can help our children develop their EQ:

1. Be Available and Open-Minded. Although there are probably many topics you hope to never have to discuss with your children, letting them know they can talk to you about anything will greatly expand their EQ. If children feel ashamed or scared to talk about certain topics, they may build up repressed emotions that could come out later in negative behaviour. It is better to be an open (and honest) book now to keep the chains of communication going between you and your children for a lifetime.

2. Provide Tools To Express Emotions. Expressing emotions thoughtfully requires us to first be aware that we are having them and then to be able to communicate them effectively to ourselves and others. One of the best ways to help young children express their emotions is to teach them easy, appropriate vocabulary to describe their feelings. Suggest phrases like: “I’m feeling sad because,” or “When this happens, I feel…,” or “I don’t like when…”. You can also try asking them to draw a picture or sing a song about how they feel. There are many other creative ways to help our children learn how to express their emotions.

3. Listen Actively. Listening helps diffuse intense feelings. When we listen deeply to another person, we let them know that we hear them and care about them. Active listening requires you to be fully present so that you can understand what the other person is thinking and feeling. You can foster active listening by using eye contact, acknowledging what they say, and asking questions that show you are interested, such as “What was that like for you?” or “How did that make you feel?”

4. Accept Their Emotions. Teach kids that they can’t choose their emotions, but they can choose what to do with those feelings. By accepting how they feel, you let them know they are safe and that it’s alright to feel that way. Even if you don’t agree with them, you can still let them know you understand how and why they feel that way. Just by acknowledging how they feel, you can guide them in finding a calm, productive solution.

5. Explore Multiple Perspectives. Experiencing other people’s perspectives broadens our thinking, builds empathy and compassion, and reduces hurtful behaviour toward others. To build this skill in your child, you can ask questions about characters while reading a story or watching a show together. Explore how different characters feel and why they may feel that way. Talk about conflicts the characters experienced. With older children, you can ask them about different views on current events, looking at all sides of an issue. As children are exposed to more perspectives, they become more flexible in their thinking, making them more accepting and tolerant of others and themselves.

6. Let Them Know It’s Okay To Fail. Mistakes help us learn and grow. Children who never experience failure can end up feeling anxious and helpless down the road. Teach your children the importance of learning from mistakes, and that they don’t need to be good at everything or liked by everyone to be happy and successful in life.

7. Love Them Unconditionally. Children need to feel that their parents will support and protect them. Giving unconditional love means having your children’s back whenever they feel threatened, unsafe, bullied, or vulnerable. Even if you don’t agree with their position or feeling, you can still give them unconditional love.

What are you doing to raise emotionally intelligent children? We’d love to hear your tips or experiences.

To learn more about emotional intelligence, check out these wonderful resources:

Books For Parents

Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child The Heart of Parenting

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind

The Whole-Brain Child Workbook: Practical Exercises, Worksheets and Activities to Nurture Developing Minds

EQ and Your Child: 8 Proven Skills To Increase Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children

The Everything Parent’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence in Children: How to Raise Children Who Are Caring, Resilient, and Emotionally Strong

Books For Kids

The Feelings Book (Revised): The Care and Keeping of Your Emotions

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings (Growing Hearts)

The Way I Feel

Feelings (Reading Rainbow Book)

Hands Are Not for Hitting (Board Book) (Best Behavior Series)

No Matter What

Visiting Feelings

When I Feel Sad (Way I Feel Books)

When I Feel Worried (The Way I Feel Books)

When I Feel Scared (Way I Feel Books)

Previously published on Happy Science Mom, Sandi Schwartz is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher specializing in parenting, wellness, environmental issues, and human behaviour. She enjoys analyzing everyday life using science, humour, and a passion to improve the world. Her blog provides a parenting toolkit for raising happy, balanced children. Follow her amazing parenting insights on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.