Any mom can tell you that kids are like sponges, constantly copying what they see and hear as they grow and learn how to interact with the world around them. While we often think about their development in terms of meeting milestones, learning their colors, or counting to 10, researchers have discovered that emotional intelligence might be just as, if not more, important for their future success. So, how do you know how your kid is doing? Fortunately, there are signs your child is emotionally intelligent, and ways any parent can start fostering emotional intelligence. You just have to know what you are looking for,
So what is emotional intelligence, anyway? The Gottman Institute defines emotional intelligence as the ability to identify, understand, express, and manage your emotions. Considering the fact that this can be hard for some adults, you might be surprised to learn that as soon as they are able to communicate, children are capable of developing emotional intelligence, according to Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice and Psychology Today contributor. Which means that having a crying toddler or a defiant preschooler might actually be a good thing. The same goes for kids who cry when they hear another child get upset — a sign of empathy. The ability to name their emotions and express them clearly is key, per Aha! Parenting. As is learning coping strategies, like breathing or counting to calm down.
If your child doesn't show signs of emotional intelligence, don't fret. The Gottman Institute notes is that if you encourage them to own and express emotions, work through problems, communicate and connect with others, you can foster their emotional intelligence and set them up for a lifetime of success and happiness.
The ability to express emotion is one of the first things we learn as babies. However, as our kids grow up, the ability to express their feelings can be stifled by a society that tells them to stop crying or only encourages them to express what we consider to be positive emotions. The Gottman Institute suggests that we stop doing this... like, right now. Instead, we should encourage the full spectrum of emotional expression in our kids. It's not only important for them to feel safe and heard, but it is actually a sign of emotional intelligence.
They Show Empathy
The ability to recognize someone else's emotional state and express understanding or compassion is not an easy skill for most adults, let alone children, to master. Firestone notes that showing empathy for other people — giving you a hug when you are sad, or wanting to help another kid on the playground — is a key part of emotional intelligence (EQ). She adds that research has linked early EQ with future success, health, and happiness.
They Can Label Their Emotions
Aha! Parenting encourages parents to help their kids label emotions. The act of identifying the specific feeling or event that has caused them to feel sad, mad, or scared can go a long way towards helping prevent those things from happening in the future, and resolve the actual problem at hand. Learning these skills is an important step in developing emotional intelligence, and you should definitely encourage your kids when they own their feelings.
They Talk To You
Expressing emotions and using them to make connections with other people is the next step in being more emotionally intelligent, according to Firestone. It follows that we as parents should encourage our kids to tell us when they feel bad, and connect with them on an emotional level to help them problem solve and cope with transitions.
They Are Curious
As Naomi Nessim writes for Solv. Health Care, being open-minded and wanting to learn about the world and other people is a sign of emotional intelligence. If your child is constantly asking "why" or is drawn to stories of different people overcoming challenges, you should totally encourage them to keep it up, as it's a clear way to develop empathy, which is a key component of EQ.
Nessim notes that kids with high emotional intelligence often become the listeners of their friend groups. People trust them to listen and help them problem solve. One surefire way you can help your kids learn how to listen is to show them, by example, what it looks and feels like to be heard, starting as soon as they are old enough to talk.
They Can Shift Gears
Whether they admit it or not, most adults still have trouble managing change and shifting gears when things don't work out they way they planned. If your kid is easy-going about changes in your routine, or able to manage disappointing or unexpected news, they might have already learned a key component of emotional intelligence, according to Aha! Parenting. As parents, they add, we can help them get their by modeling calm in times of chaos and crisis, and not letting our emotions get the best of us, either.
They Can Calm Down
According to the Gottman Institute, some days it seems like young children are full of raw, unregulated emotion. The ability to manage emotions and cope when things don't go your way is not a skill that most kids pick up at an early age. As parents, we should applaud our kids when they develop the ability to breathe, count, or play their way into a calmer mindset — the cornerstone of emotional intelligence.