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The Importance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

One of our main goals as parents and caregivers should be to guide the child towards independence. As hard as it is to accept, our little ones will, all too soon, be off and dealing with life’s challenges.

In order for true independence to emerge, kids need to feel confident and in control.

We now know that one of the biggest predictors of a child being successful and happy is their emotional intelligence.

Stephanie Pinto, an Australian based former speech pathologist and certified emotional intelligence coach, says that, simply put, emotional intelligence is “a person’s ability to be aware of their own emotions as well as others’ emotions, and how they can use this information to guide their actions and behaviours in day-to-day life.”

Of particular interest to parents, she notes that “EQ is fast becoming more important than IQ in the classroom.”

Components of Emotional Intelligence

There are five components of EQ.

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Social Skills
  4. Empathy
  5. Motivation

While all five of these components are crucial to success, the one I want to focus on in this post is the idea of self-regulation.

Self- Control vs. Self-Regulation

We often hear parents talk about self-control, but that isn’t the end all be all when it comes to emotional regulation.

It’s important to understand that self-control is about being able to stop yourself from acting impulsively.

Whereas, self-regulation is about reducing the intensity and the frequency of those impulses allowing you to take appropriate action.

How kids learn self-regulation

Anyone with toddlers knows that kids are not born with this ability. Far from it. Toddlers and preschoolers often show us huge emotions.

They throw themselves on the floor sobbing because you didn’t give them the right color cup, or because you told them they couldn’t eat dog food. The screech and squeal in delight at you blowing a bubble or because they got to stomp in a mud puddle.

So how can we help kids learn to self-regulate when they seem to feel everything so deeply?

Simply by providing them many opportunities to help them identify the emotions they are feeling and give them a chance to practice strategies for coping with those emotions.

Stephanie notes that “Kids who learn and regularly practice self-calming strategies like deep breathing and positive affirmations are well on the road to developing a great level of emotional intelligence.”

Developing EQ in Kids

Here are some specific ways we can help children develop a strong EQ.

  • Openly talk about our own emotions and model self-regulation.
  • Read books that directly talk about different emotions (Check out The Color Monster, B is for Breathe, or The Way I Feel).
  • Encourage your child to identify the emotion they feel, or identify it for them if they are too young.
  • Create a space for them that is specifically dedicated to helping them calm down. You can read more about this type of space here.
  • Pick a self-calming strategies to try–deep breathing is a great one for kids–they can use a finger to slowly trace their thumb, going up one side as they breathe in and down the other side as they breathe out. Then they can trace their other fingers using the same method.

The role of play in developing self-regulation

It comes back to play, as it so often does.

Twentieth century Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky famously discussed the role of play in the development of self-regulation.

He explains that in dramatic play or make believe play, children create imaginary roles and then act out those roles. Often times, these roles are of adults–Doctors, Firefighters, Superheros, a Mom caring for a baby. Within this role play, children must act specific to this role and work to inhibit behaviors that do not align with their role. This takes emotional regulation.

The research also shows us that kids are able to better regulate their behaviors if given a play task; being asked to be a lookout vs just asking them to stand and wait.

Parents can capitalize on this by turning directions into “play tasks” and by providing plenty of opportunities for children to engage in pretend play.