The Importance of Developing Emotional Intelligence for Kids

The Importance of Developing Emotional Intelligence for Kids

Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” Mohsin Hamid

Navigating emotions is a complex activity and often guides one’s thought process and actions. According to researchers Peter Salavoy and John Mayer, emotional intelligence, or the capacity to assess one’s environment and understand one’s emotions and those around them, is a strong indicator of social awareness. As children explore the world around them, they are susceptible of being influenced to form new perspectives and adopt new behaviors. Kids that learn to connect their own experiences to those around them interact in a way that promotes a much safer and trusting environment. By teaching empathy to our children, we encourage a deeper self-awareness of how to cultivate strong relationships and appropriately respond to personal, interpersonal and external situations. Below, we have outlined some strategies, as well as their long-term benefits, that can support your child in developing a higher emotional intelligence and become a more confident and independent individual.

How We Can Help Kids Develop Emotional Intelligence

We can increase our child’s emotional awareness by encouraging open and candid conversations. Emotion coaching can help a young child deal with difficult emotions. By welcoming our child’s thoughts and concerns, we allow them a space to be vulnerable without judgment and build their emotional literacy.

Simply asking “why?” is an effective method of communicating with your child. This gives them the initial opportunity to both examine and dissect the situation independently and understand why they are reacting in a certain manner before receiving your input. This practice also strengthens their social skills, emotional intelligence skills as well as emotional awareness by encouraging them to take the thoughts and feelings of others into consideration while also learning self-control. Emotions can operate on a spectrum, and helping your children identify these layers can be beneficial to their self-awareness. Difficult situations and big feelings arise at any time in children. Your child’s ability to distinguish each different emotion, while also being able to articulate these feelings will help them develop mindfulness and a better understanding of people’s emotions.

It is also beneficial to take time to acknowledge your child’s successes and uplift them in times of failure. A child’s ability to pick up parenting cues is no easy feat! Children learn to communicate by watching and mimicking their parents and caregivers, so when you are communicating with another person, emphasize listening over responding. Pause for a brief moment and give your children the center stage. Approach social emotional learning with a growth mindset. Emotional skills are hard to learn and take time and patience.

We can also help develop our children’s emotional intelligence by encouraging them to be curious. Observing and being sensitive to many different environments and contexts can enhance one’s ability to adapt to unpredictable situations. Encourage your child to pay attention to how the world functions around them. Engaging in oral storytelling, writing or acting in a play can help your child experience life outside of their own shoes.

The most effective way to develop emotional intelligence in our children is to have them constantly question things by looking within. Give them the space and time to explore their environments and be captivated by even the simplest of things. Looking within helps kids understand different feelings and recognize emotions. Eventually the understanding of emotions can lead them to see other people’s feelings and develop empathy.

Emotional Intelligence Can Help Creativity

New research indicates that a high emotional intelligence can benefit creative performance, even during creative blocks. A child can increase their problem-solving skills exponentially by engaging in activities that promote the use of their imagination. By doing this, they will become more perceptive of patterns which will then allow them to think of innovative solutions in their daily life, ranging from school to playtime.

When your child is the bully: Tips for parents

When your child is the bully: Tips for parents

It’s bad for children’s health, makes headlines, and defies most attempts to prevent it. Bullying has become the “big tobacco” of the 21st century.

What can a parent do when their child is engaging in behavior that’s condemned by nearly everyone? We talked with Dr. Peter Raffalli, a neurologist and director of the Bullying and Cyberbullying Prevention and Advocacy Collaborative at Boston Children’s Hospital, about kids who bully other kids and what parents can do.

What are parents of bullies up against?

The first challenge for parents is actually believing that their child is bullying other kids. Contrary to popular belief, bullies are often good-looking, popular kids. Adults often consider them role models for other kids. The myth that bullies are rough, insecure thugs can make it very difficult for parents to believe their popular, confident child is bullying others.

What is bullying?

Bullying is a series of mean acts carried out against a single person repeatedly over time. Bullying behavior may include:

  • pushing, hitting, tripping
  • name-calling, teasing
  • spreading rumors, exclusion from a group
  • stealing or damaging property
  • sending hurtful messages over text or social media

The next challenge parents face is getting their child to talk about their behavior. Often, when confronted, bullies become defiant. They roll their eyes and refuse to answer questions. They may insist that what they’ve been doing is not bullying or that the other kid deserves it.

Understandably, many parents of bullies don’t know what to do to change their child’s behavior. We know that punishing them does not work. Schools can suspend bullies, parents can ground them, but as soon as the punishment ends, the bullying starts again, sometimes worse than it was before. This is why in the bullying clinic, we recommend a therapeutic, rather than punitive, approach to bullying.

What motivates kids to bully other kids?

Some kids bully out of a need to be the top dog at school or in their social circle. They pick on kids they perceive as weak — kids who are shy or ‘different’ or don’t have a lot of friends. No matter what sets their victims apart, kids who bully have more power and use bullying to maintain it.

Sometimes kids who bully have a neurodevelopmental disorder like attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They have trouble handling frustration and controlling their impulses. Ironically, this can also put them in the sightline of other bullies, and many kids with ADHD are both bullies and bullied by others, in other words, bully-victims.

For other kids, the root of the problem is at home. We see kids in the bullying clinic who witness abuse between parents or are being abused by a parent or sibling. They then repeat this behavior at school, except they’re the ones abusing their peers.

How to Teach Older Students Social-Emotional Skills? Try Civics

How to Teach Older Students Social-Emotional Skills? Try Civics

Civic engagement is the oil that keeps the gears of democracy working. But what exactly are the behaviors of an engaged citizen?

Understanding other points of view, solving problems collaboratively, and building relationship skills may all come to mind.

For many educators, those skills will sound familiar, because they’re many of the same taught through social-emotional learning.

Not only are the skills cultivated through social-emotional learning the same behaviors that power civic engagement, but the reverse is also true: Civic engagement can be a meaningful way to teach and reinforce social and emotional skills.

That’s especially true for middle and high schoolers who are searching for their place in their communities and the world and might not otherwise connect with traditional social-emotional lessons, said Jenna Ryall, the director of Civics for All, an initiative of the New York City department of education to promote civic engagement in the city’s schools.

“[Civics] is relatable. It’s a practical application of social-emotional learning,” she said. “I think that is the best way to teach social-emotional learning—if [students] can see how it’s applied beyond the classroom walls, if they can see how it’s improving their interpersonal skills, if they can see how it’s allowing them the opportunity of using their voice, if they can see the results of co-creating the school community with the adults around them and the respect they are getting as a co-creator of those things.”

Civic engagement is much more expansive than just voting. It includes volunteering, advocacy, and really anything to do with people coming together to solve their communities’ problems, including those in school communities.

A democracy can’t function properly without the participation of its people, and school is the perfect place for students to learn these skills, dispositions, and habits, said Rebecca Winthrop, a senior fellow and the co-director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. In many parts of the country, schools may be the only avenue for students to develop their civic muscle.

Researchers estimate that 30 percent of urban youth and 60 percent of rural youth live in what’s been described as “civic deserts,” said Winthrop. These are communities where there are few resources or opportunities—such as youth programming, culture and arts groups, and religious congregations—for youth to be civically active.

Nationally, civic engagement has been on the decline for years.

“I am very worried about evaporating civic disposition among large swaths of the adult population and I’m worried about what effect that is having on children,” said Winthrop. “No one is modeling this to them.”

One doesn’t have to look any further than a number of recent school board meetings across the country where community members have made death threats to board members over masking policies, to see the value of well-developed social-emotional skills to civic life.

Giving students a say in how schools are run and opportunities to work together to solve problems are ways that schools can help students hone their social, emotional, and civic skills.

To support the health of kids, stop focusing on their weight

To support the health of kids, stop focusing on their weight

Since the pandemic started, people of all ages have gained weight. At the same time, the rate at which youth and young adults are seeking treatment for eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder, has increased.

While the reasons for these changes are complex, pandemic-related stress and weight bias — the belief that a thin body is good and healthy, while a large body is bad and unhealthy — are prominent contributors.

As researchers who study health behaviors and are also parents of young children, we often see health research and health initiatives that place a disproportionate emphasis on weight.

That’s a problem for two big reasons.

First, it draws attention away from better predictors of chronic disease and strategies to address these factors. Although a high body mass index, or BMI, is one risk factor for various chronic diseases, it is only one of many, and far from the strongest. And while moderate weight loss does reduce chronic disease risk for some people, about 80 percent of individuals who manage to lose weight regain it. The other 20 percent describe their ongoing efforts to maintain their weight loss as stressful and exhausting.

Second, disproportionate emphasis on weight reinforces weight bias. Weight bias, in turn, contributes to weight-related discrimination, like bullying and teasing, which is common among youth. Across diverse samples surveyed, 25 percent to 50 percent of children and adolescents report being teased or bullied about their body size, and these experiences are linked to disordered eating and depression, as well as poorer academic performance and health.

To best support the physical and emotional health of children during this pandemic, we suggest reducing the emphasis on body size. Below are some specific tips for parents, teachers and medical providers.

1. Stop using the words ‘fat,’ ‘obese’ and ‘overweight’

When asked, children and adults with larger bodies consistently indicate that these are the least preferred and most stigmatizing terms to talk about body size, while “weight” and “body mass” are the most preferred.

So, consider modeling less stigmatizing language. For example, if your teen refers to her friend as “overweight,” respond by saying, “Yes, your friend does have a larger body.” Likewise, if your doctor refers to your child as “obese,” ask them to share their “body mass index percentile” instead. Or, better yet, ask them not to talk about weight at all, which leads us to our next recommendation.

2. Focus on health behaviors

Physical activity, eating habits and emotional support from friends and family are stronger predictors of disease and death than BMI, and all of these have been greatly affected by COVID-19.

Considering that behavioral weight loss programs are ineffective for the majority of people, we recommend focusing on behaviors that are more easily changed and have stronger influences on health and well-being. Regular physical activity, for example, improves mood and lowers risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, even in the absence of weight loss.

Supporting a Child in the Five Areas of Emotional Intelligence

Supporting a Child in the Five Areas of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand and manage our own emotions and the emotions of others. Its development is distinct from the development of academic intelligence and a child can benefit from the positive impact on success and wellbeing that it can provide. A child experiencing some of the less helpful characteristics common in high learning potential children, such as the tendency towards perfectionism, social challenges, or worry and anxiety, could benefit greatly from the mitigating effect of the development of their emotional intelligence. In our blog Emotional Intelligence and High Learning Potential we looked at what emotional intelligence is and its impact on children with high learning potential. In this article we look in more detail at the five key skill areas identified as constituting emotional intelligence by psychologist Dr Daniel Goleman:

  1. Self-awareness: the ability to recognise your own emotions (and how they affect not just yourself but others around you).
  2. Self-regulation: the ability to remain in control of your actions, whatever emotions you may be feeling.
  3. Motivation: the ability to persevere in your pursuits, even in the face of difficulties.
  4. Empathy: the ability to understand and respond to the emotions of others.
  5. Social skills: the ability to use emotional intelligence in the context of interpersonal relationships.

Self-Awareness

Being able to understand their emotions: what they are, why they are experiencing them and then what to do in response to them, goes a long way in building up emotional intelligence. You can help your child by discussing your own emotions; by modelling emotionally intelligent behaviour, showing them that it is okay to have all different kinds of emotions and that we can respond to them in a positive manner.

Talk to them about how you feel; about how they feel, and about both the big and the small emotions, in order to take the fear of the unknown out of the equation. This can be of immense help to a child who may previously have found it difficult to discuss their feelings. Modelling behaviour in this way can show them that the world does not end when we admit to our emotions; that, in fact, it becomes a whole lot easier to navigate once we do not fear our feelings. Validate their own emotions, and their intensity, and make such discussions so regular that the whole process becomes comfortable, normalised, almost automatic, and certainly significantly less scary.

If they are not comfortable vocalising their emotions, allow them to write them down or draw them. Perhaps make up some emotion cards so that your child can pick out the ones that they are feeling at that moment, or ask them: “If you were an animal, what would you be?”. Helping them to develop the confidence and the vocabulary to recognise, name and describe their emotions will help them to feel more in control, and they can begin to take ownership of them. From that point, they will be much more able to go on to choose appropriate ways forward. For more support in helping them to develop their emotional literacy, see our advice sheet PA616 Describing Feelings

It is also only with the development of such self-awareness that a child can go on to develop another of the key skills of emotional intelligence: empathy. From the stepping stone of being able to recognise their own emotions they will be able to move on to identifying the emotions of others.

DESR: “Does ADHD Emotional Dysregulation Ever Fade?”

DESR: “Does ADHD Emotional Dysregulation Ever Fade?”

Emotional dysregulation is a core facet of ADHD that is excluded from official diagnostic criteria and most symptom tests — a contradiction that is pushing researchers and clinicians to further investigate the connection. One such ADHD expert is Russell Barkley, Ph.D., who has coined the term deficient emotional self-regulation (DESR) to describe this fundamental trait.

Because DESR is a novel concept to many, questions abound. Below, I answer several posed during my recent ADDitude webinar titled “Deficient Emotional Self-Regulation: The Overlooked ADHD Symptom That Impacts Everything.”

Q: Does emotional dysregulation change over time? Does it ever improve?

Emotional dysregulation does change and it can improve, but it depends on the individual and the factors involved. For instance, emotional self-regulation is rarely elevated as an issue in toddlers. We don’t expect 4-year-olds to manage their emotions very well. Parents are typically more concerned with the impulsive aspect of emotion at this stage.

But by the time we get into late adolescence, and especially adulthood, we do expect individuals to have developed that second stage of emotional control: top-down executive management (or moderating emotional reactions to evocative events). However, DESR impairs just that —processes related to emotional self-regulation. And that leads to more disparaging moral judgment about adults with ADHD than it would in much younger individuals.

It’s almost like the two components of this emotion problem in ADHD — emotional impulsivity (EI) and DESR — trade places as individuals age. The former is more problematic in children, while the latter becomes a more compelling deficit for the adult individual.

We also know that ADHD symptoms fluctuate over time for many individuals, which may mean that issues like emotional dysregulation also change in severity or degree of impairment. And keep in mind that ADHD mostly persists to some degree from childhood to adulthood for 90% of people.

But can emotional regulation be “trained?” In children, the chances of that are quite slim because they haven’t yet developed the appropriate self-regulation skills that such training would require. Interventions like medication, parent training, and controlling for environmental triggers may be most helpful for this stage. Adults, however, may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based programs especially reformulated for adult ADHD in recent books, both of which help the individual deal with many aspects of emotional dysregulation.

Q: Do men and women with ADHD experience emotional dysregulation differently?

Generally, we know that males are more prone to exhibit aggression and hostility, which are associated with externalizing disorders, while females are more prone to anxiety and mood disorders. Both, however, do struggle with impatience and frustration, and the emotional dysregulation component in ADHD will only exacerbate that.

Q: When might DESR symptoms start to appear in children?

DESR usually appears between ages 3 and 5, though it may be quite obvious in a younger child who is significantly hyperactive and impulsive. Still, many families write off this behavior, believing it to be developmentally normal (i.e. the terrible twos), only realizing later on that the child is quite hot-headed and emotional compared to peers. Some of these children will go on to develop oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). If we accept DESR as a core feature of ADHD, we can see why the disorder poses such a significant risk for ODD and related disorders.