Guest post by Tracy O’Connor
You probably spend quite a bit of time making sure that your toddler is growing physically and intellectually. By making sure that your child eats nourishing food, gets lots of time to play and exercise and providing them with a stimulating environment, you are helping set a firm foundation for them to have healthy, successful lives.
But what about emotional intelligence? Many parents are pessimistic about their ability to teach their child to be more emotionally intelligence, either because they feel they lack those traits themselves or are simply overwhelmed and not sure how to begin. The good news, many of the things parents instinctively do for their children are also good for developing patience, frustration tolerance, tenacity and empathy.
1. Help your child put a name to their emotions. Being able to articulate what they are feeling and why goes a long way towards finding a solution.
Start early by teaching your infant or toddler the words for how they are feeling and a short explanation of why. “You are so happy! Are you happy because it’s fun to play outside?” or “You are angry. It makes you angry when I say no, don’t play with the sink.”
Play with making faces in the mirror and talking about what makes you happy, sad, frightened, angry, frustrated and so on. When you are reading, point out the characters expressions and have your child tell you how they think they feel and why.
2. Encourage your child to be persistent. Many parents are reluctant to make their child keep trying for fear of pushing them too hard, however, it’s also important for children to know that the key to achievement is to keep your focus and try even when things are hard.
For toddlers, that might mean prodding them to try building that block tower one more time or having them try one more time to zipper their pants. Show them how to take a deep breath and let out their frustrated feelings so that they can give it another try with a clear mind.
3. Show them that failure is not an ending point. Failure is not an option in life, it’s mandatory! Help your child see that failure is just another part of the learning process and that it can be embraced as an opportunity to learn something new.
If your child makes a mistake or isn’t able to do something they want to do, help them to see the positive aspects. Let them know that their effort is the real accomplishment.
4. Nurture their empathy. Children and adults who are empathetic are generally better able to work with others and have a more positive attitude about their own lives.
Talk to your child about how others might be feeling and find ways to relate with instances from their own lives. Very small children won’t understand that other people do not have the same perspective and feelings as they do, but in time they will be able to see things from other’s points of view.
5. Lead by example. This is the most difficult and most important thing a parent can do to help their child develop emotional intelligence. Your child is learning from everything you do. If you react by becoming flustered and irritable when you are stressed, your child will pick up on that. If you think failure is the end of the world, your child will believe that, too. If you are calm, introspective, empathetic and persistent, chances are good that your child will learn to be the same way.
Tracy O’Connor balances being a freelance writer with raising five boys, ages 3-15. She also serves as community manager for Potty Training Power where parents can get personalized advice and support to help them through the potty training process. You can follow her on Twitter.