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how to develop emotional intelligence in kids

How To Develop Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

There is no doubt that 2020 and 2021 have been tough years for all of us. Even though New Zealand was less affected by COVID-19 than other countries it still has taken its toll on our community physically, financially, emotionally, and mentally. This effect has not only been felt by the adults, but also by our children.

There are many studies that have found that when you build your resilience you have a reduced risk for depression, anxiety, and PSD. You will also improve your longevity, happiness, and satisfaction in life.

In his TED talk, author and psychologist, Guy Winch examines the disparity between the priority that we place on caring for ourselves physically vs how we care for ourselves emotionally. He relates a story of how he observed a five-year-old brushing his teeth and slipping and scraping his leg. The boy then without asking for assistance reached into the medicine cabinet and grabbed a plaster and covered the wound.

He reflected on how we teach children to take care of themselves physically. However, we do not place the same emphasis on teaching children to care for themselves physiologically.

I am a firm believer that if we would like to shift this mindset for future generations, then we need to start teaching our children emotional literacy from a young age.

mother and child  

The Dyad

Nathan Wallis, a neuroscience educator, speaks about the significance of the dyad relationship between the infant and the most significant adult in their lives.

This is the first relationship the infant has with their primary carer. This relationship is crucially important in supporting a baby to develop a healthy, complex brain. The dyad is where the infant learns about self-regulation, trust and the world around them. The quality of the learning and the brain connections the infant forms are dependent on how attuned the adult is to the infant and their needs.

Our children are constantly taking in our words, our actions and our emotional reactions. We are the windows from which our children view the world and therefore the quality of role-modelling is extremely powerful.

father and son playing together

"Our children are learning from us through our every word and action, about love, relationships, empathy, generosity, gratitude, patience, tolerance, kindness, honesty and respect. Most profoundly they are learning about themselves, their abilities, their worth and their place in our hearts and in the world."

- Janet Lansbury, Elevating Child Care


Emotional Parenting Styles

Professor John Gottmann, an American emotional intelligence researcher, discovered the following styles of emotional parenting through his work:

Emotional parenting style

  • Emotion dismissing – where adults dismiss or minimise children’s emotions. A common way that adults do this is by reassuring children, prompting children to think on the “bright side” or moving straight into problem-solving.
  • Emotion disapproving – where the parent becomes angry about, judges or is critical of the child’s emotions.
  • Laissez-faire – where parents allow children to feel and express all their emotions but do not support the child to regulate their emotions or resolve the problems that led to the emotions.
  • Emotions Coaching – where parents allow and validate the child’s emotions and then support/coach the child with regulation and problem-solving.

    Professor Gottmann’s, research found that adults were the most likely to respond to children’s emotions in the style in which they were parented. He also found that when children’s emotions were responded to in the Emotions Coaching parenting style, it resulted in the following benefits for the child’s development:

    • Emotions coaching parents responded to children’s emotions during the lower frequency emotions, therefore emotions and behaviours didn’t need to escalate.
    • If a child’s emotions were coached from a young age, children learned to understand themselves and their emotions and therefore learned to self-soothe and were more likely to stay calm even through strong emotions.
    • Emotions coaching caregivers did not disapprove of emotions so there were fewer points of conflict.
    • Emotions coaching caregivers set clear limits about appropriate behaviours – ensuring that children knew the rules and the consequences of breaking them.
    • Since emotions coaching validated the child and their experience this created a strong emotional bond between parents and children. Therefore, children are more likely to respond to the caregiver’s requests.


    How To Be an Emotions Coach

    You may have read the above list of emotional parenting styles and despaired that you have somehow failed as a parent. I hear you, when I first learned about Emotions Coaching, I felt the same way. The truth is that we are all doing the best we can with what we have, and children are remarkably resilient.

    Mother and child emotions coach

    The good news is that like any skill, Emotions Coaching is a have five distinct steps that we all can learn. It is also worth noting that we only need to Emotions Coach our children forty per cent of the time to be effective.


    The Five Steps of Emotions Coaching

    Remember when we tune into our children’s emotions at the lower frequency emotions and behaviours don’t need to escalate.

    • Become aware of your child’s bids for connection and emotions especially during lower frequency emotions such as disappointment, frustration, hurt or embarrassment.
      Bids for attention could be as subtle as your child coming to sit with you, sudden silence or your teenager coming into the kitchen for a snack. It is important to tune in at this stage to be effective. Neuroscience has found that when we are in the grips of heightened emotions such as anger or rage our ability to think rationally or to be coachable is greatly diminished.
    • See your child’s emotions and bids for attention as a time to connect with them and to teach. Practice “turning towards” them.
    • Help your child to talk about and label their emotions. To assist this step of the process it is helpful for us and our children to develop an extended vocabulary of emotions and an emotional awareness of where we might feel these emotions in our body.
    • Empathise with and validate your child’s emotional experience. You may not agree with your child’s behaviour or their perspective however it is important that our children learn that all emotions are allowed and safe to experience.
    • The final step is Problem Solving, and it is optional. If you think about your own experience when talking to a friend about your problems, you might not need someone to solve your problem. You may simply need to be heard, understood or feel as if you matter. The same is true for your child. You may want to give them the option “Did you just need to talk about how you were feeling, or do you want to think about what we can do next to solve the problem?”

    If your child chooses problem-solving, some of the things you may want to talk through with them:

    • What are the possible solutions?
    • What could the consequences of these solutions be for your child and others?
    • Which one should we try first?mother and child

    "Telling a child that something that matters to them isn’t important doesn’t convince them that it doesn’t matter. It just convinces them that it doesn’t matter to you, it often makes them feel that they don’t matter, either. Remember, caring about the little things that matters to little people creates big connections."

    - L.R. Knost

    Our products that will help kids to learn about emotions:

    1. Placote Games - Seek & Find: Emotions
    2. Placote Games - How does it feel?
    3. Placote Games - Monster School
    4. Placote Games - Mission: Emotions!
    5. Sensory Worry Stones




    • Elevating Child Care – Janet Lansbury, 2014
    • How to Practice Emotional First Aid – Guy Winch ( TED 2015)
    • The Crucial Dyad Relationship for Infants – Nathan Wallis (Storypark 2017)
    • Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child – John Gottmann, 1998
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