Singapore is known for it’s extraordinarily high standards when it comes to educational achievement. Whether local or international, kids these days on the Little Red Dot are under immense pressure to succeed. Added to the daily stresses of growing up, it’s vital that your child has the correct tools to deal with the myriad of emotions that arise from growing up in 2018!
Emotions are a fundamental part of being human. We have the capacity for a huge range of emotional experience and expression. At times, all of us can struggle with managing our emotions. For children, the intensity and complexity of their emotions can feel overwhelming. They may act out with challenging behaviours because they cannot tolerate their feelings or calm themselves down.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Understanding our emotional experience underlying behaviour is a key aspect of what is known as Emotional Intelligence: the awareness, understanding and ability to express and manage one’s own emotions, and to understand and empathise with other’s emotions. Research (e.g. Goodman et al., 2015) has found that children with greater emotional intelligence are more able to self soothe, have successful friendships and concentrate in school, and have greater life satisfaction as adults.
The Steps for Developing Emotional Intelligence
Parents play an important tole in teaching children the skills of emotional intelligence. Dr John Gottman and colleagues (1997) have identified a parenting style known as Emotion Coaching that most effectively promotes a child’s emotion socialisation. The steps to Emotion Coaching can be summarised as follows:
- Become aware of the child’s emotion, especially if it is of a lower intensity such as disappointment or frustration. Examine the child’s body language, facial expressions, gestures, or imagine how you might feel in an adult equivalent situation. For adolescents, look for hurt under anger or sadness under indifference.
- Recognise the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching. Try to see the situation as an opportunity for you to connect with your child and teach them how to self soothe. You may need to pause, take a breath and calm yourself before engaging with your child.
- Listen empathetically and validate the child’s feelings. You don’t have to agree with their perspective, but you can understand why they feel that way. Welcome the emotions and reflect back what you hear e.g. “I hear how upset you are about this..” Check that you have understood and ask them to tell you more.
- Help the child verbally label emotions if required. Giving a word to the emotion helps it to feel less overwhelming e.g. “It sounds like she made you feel angry..”
- If necessary, when the child is ready, help them problem solve. You may need to communicate that all feelings are acceptable, but some behaviours are not. Ask them to generate alternative ways that they could manage their feelings or develop solutions to their problems. Note that if the child isn’t open to problem solving, they still need to work through their emotions and you will need to return to sitting with the emotions in the earlier steps.
Relax – family stressors are normal
Stressful events in family life are unavoidable. If children have the capacity to understand, communicate and regulate their emotions, they can respond to stresses in flexible and resilient ways. These skills of emotional intelligence can be carried with them from childhood throughout life as they continue to navigate life’s challenges.
Goodman, A., Joshi, H., Nasim, B., Tyler, C. (2015). Social and emotional skills in childhood and their long-term effects on later life: A review for the Early Intervention Foundation. London: UCL
Gottman, J. & DeClair, J. (1997). The Heart of Parenting: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. New York: Simon & Schulster.