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Ways to cultivate emotional intelligence in children
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Ways to cultivate emotional intelligence in children

Showing empathy in their communication, having self-awareness and self-regulation are key determiners of a child’s emotional intelligence

How to cultivate emotional intelligence in children

Annapurna Shevgoor (34), a homemaker from Bangalore, recalls that her son’s social interaction was fairly limited until he turned six. During the pandemic, he mostly interacted only with his parents. It was only when the schools started offline classes again that teachers noticed his disinterest in social interaction. Not just that, they observed that the child remained cold — he wasn’t actively responding to situations and was disinterested in making friends. “He was mostly quiet and showed no response during playtime with other children. Sometimes he was aggressive with other children when he did not get his preferred toy,” Shevgoor recalled from her discussions with the boy’s teacher. Upon observing his behavior, his teachers stressed the need for emotional intelligence in children.

The school directed Shevgoor to meet their child psychologist. The expert offered two counseling sessions involving both the child and the parents, during which it was identified that the six-year-old found it difficult to express his emotions. He was said to have low emotional intelligence (EI).

What is emotional intelligence?

“Your child is emotionally intelligent if they can identify, regulate and express emotions appropriately with friends, family, and acquaintances,” explains Muskaan Jain, cognitive behavioral therapist, Bangalore. She adds, “Genetics, family dynamics, upbringing and cultural nuances play a role in cultivating emotional intelligence in children. Parents, teachers and friends are fundamental in helping the child enhance emotional intelligence.”

“Emotional intelligence is twice as strong a predictor as Intelligence Quotient (IQ) for an individual’s overall well-being,” points out Dr Tejal Shetty, consultant, Centre for Child Health, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai. “The social experience can help better the child’s emotional intelligence.”

Identifying and expressing one’s emotions as well as understanding others’ emotions, also known as emotional regulation, is the prime marker for emotional intelligence in children, say experts. “Most children begin to express their emotions by the time they are three years old,” says Sumalatha Vasudeva, psychologist, Gleneagles Hospital Kengeri, Bangalore. Jain adds, “At first, the child understands and expresses primary emotions: happiness, sadness, anger and fear. This is followed by secondary emotions such as envy, sympathy, neglect, love, pride, surprise and others.” 

Ways to decode your child’s emotional intelligence levels

The following are signs that your child is emotionally intelligent:

Self-awareness: The child must be aware of his or her feelings in each situation. “Most children above two years of age can understand why they are happy, sad, or scared,” explains Jain. Self-awareness also includes an understanding of how one’s behavior affects another person.

Self-regulation: Emotional responses can be highly instinctual in the early years. With social experience, children learn to control their emotional outbursts. Dr Shetty shares, “By 10 years of age, children develop control or tolerance over their emotions. Their emotional responses are less instinctive and more reasonable.”

Empathy: Being able to put yourself in another’s shoes is a marker of emotional intelligence. Asking your near dear ones if they are okay not only shows care but empathy too.

Signs of low emotional intelligence

Vasudeva enumerates the signs of low emotional intelligence parents must watch out for in their children:

  • Inability to manage emotions: When older children are denied something, if they show aggression or isolate from their peers or parents or take longer than usual to adaptl, it indicates that they need to work on their emotions.
  • Difficulty expressing emotions: If a child is unable to express how they are feeling, parents and caregivers should take note.
  • Inadequate emotional response: A blank stare or a roar of laughter for a scary or sad situation, or unreasonable aggression, social isolation, or not listening are signs of low emotional intelligence.
  • Being self-absorbed: When a child is heavily invested in oneself and insensitive or inconsiderate of another’s emotions, parents must worry. This behavior is evident when the child starts school, and can lead to adjustment issues.

Can EI be cultivated?

Emotional intelligence is not exclusively innate. Rather, Jain says that it needs constant nurturing. Most children learn from observing others. Thus, parents must model positive behavior to help them learn faster. Imprinting or modeling is the best way to cultivate emotional intelligence in children, ascertains Vasudeva.

Shevgoor’s son is now eight years old and is working with occupational and speech therapists to develop his social skills. They focus on his ability to express his emotions. Also, his homework includes coloring books, bubble breathing exercises, and a few mental games. “Today, he greets and interacts with people. He is also more expressive. The teacher says that he is making friends in school, too,” says the happy mother.

Jain reveals, “Developmental milestones are strong cues to understand a child’s emotional intelligence. Any developmental delay must be addressed with the help of a pediatrician, speech therapist, occupational therapist or child psychologist. The right support at early stages can help the child develop emotional intelligence.”

Takeaways

  • Emotional intelligence in children is as important as the Intelligence Quotient.
  • Being unreasonably aggressive, isolated, or self-absorbed are signs of low emotional intelligence.
  • Parents’ positive behavior as well as verbal and non-verbal behavioral cues such as nodding their head while listening and talking about the day and the like help cultivate emotional intelligence in children.

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