Sometimes our children can humble us with their emotional intelligence. They may notice when we’re feeling bad and try to comfort us with a hug or by sharing their favorite toys.
Other days they have a meltdown because you want them to wear shoes.
It’s all part of experiencing the behavioral and emotional strengths of a child—as well as the areas where your support can help them grow. What is social and emotional learning and why is it important for your child? Learning how to regulate our own emotions, read emotional cues, and respond to the emotions of others is a major part of growing up. In fact, studies suggest that emotional intelligence is one of the stronger indicators of a child’s future success.1
Discovering how to identify the emotional strengths of a child can help you cultivate opportunities to bond with your child and help them grow into more emotionally-mature individuals.
Three Pillars of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence can feel like an abstract concept. But at its heart, emotional intelligence comes down to three simple components:2
Teaching about emotions and how to safely deal with them is essential to your child’s well-being. With support and practice, children can improve their ability to identify, regulate, and learn from their emotions.
How to Encourage Your Child’s Emotional Strengths
Every child has different emotional intelligence strengths, but they often develop along a similar timeline:1
- Before reaching school age, children tend to develop strategies that can help them deal with unfamiliar or unsettling feelings. For example, if they’re scared by a creepy character in a book you’re reading, they might calm their fear by covering their eyes or looking away.
- Around ten years of age, children typically develop more complex strategies to deal with things that upset them. Those include problem-solving skills and strategies for managing emotions caused by factors that are out of their control.
Recognizing and validating when your child solves or responds to an emotional problem in a positive way can help them internalize that behavior as positive and replicate it more consistently.
However, not all types of encouragement help equally. In fact, certain encouragement can hurt your child in the long run. It’s important to acknowledge your child’s behavior in a way that encourages growth and empowerment, while also establishing a meaningful connection with them to show them that their opinion of themselves matters.
For example, we recommend focusing on:
- Acknowledge their progress – Rather than focusing on the outcome—I’m so proud of you for cleaning up your toys—try to focus on acknowledging the process and asking them how they feel about their progress—Wow, you worked so hard to clean up the room, how does that feel? Or––Thank you so much for cleaning up the room, I really appreciate it. Focusing on the outcome can help build your child’s confidence and encourage their curiosity, interest, and satisfaction in the steps they took. You’re helping them focus on their response to the situation, which is in their control, instead of something they can’t always control, like the outcome.
- Encouraging positive social behavior – Some studies show that encouraging social behavior can help your child engage in more frequent social behavior in the future. For example, asking a toddler to help you pick something up, then thanking them for their help can make them more likely to show similar social behaviors in the future.
We recommend trying to avoid:
- Extreme praise – Telling our child they’re the best singer in the whole world can feel like a natural, harmless extension of our love. But studies suggest it can harm children in the long run. Children may stop trusting their parents' praise, which can hurt their self-esteem. Or, in some cases, children over-value being successful at everything they try—so much so that they may be less likely to try something new if they think they’ll perform it poorly.
- Social comparison praise – Studies suggest that praising a child for being the best behaved in their class motivates them as long as they stay the best. But once someone else wins “best behaved,” they lose motivation. Instead, try focusing your praise on actions your child can control, instead of how their behavior compares to their peer’s actions.
When it comes to healthy parenting, paying attention to your words can help affirm and encourage your child’s emotional strengths without accidentally imparting harmful messages. It can also foster a growth mindset that helps them develop other emotional intelligence pillars.4
How to Foster Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence Pillars
It’s normal for your child to struggle with emotional regulation sometimes, especially when they face new or complicated problems.
Using the following tactics can help you support their emotional development at a young age.
See Big Emotions as a Big Opportunity
If your child has difficulty dealing with their feelings, they may act out. But if you notice your child seems upset and ask them about it, you can help them process and express their emotions safely.
When your young child seems like they might feel upset, we recommend tying your own version of this script:
- First, ask what’s going on—at this stage, focus on listening to them and validating what they’re experiencing.
- Once you’ve listened to them, ask them follow-up questions and coach them through identifying what they’re feeling and why.
- Welcome and validate their feelings. Let them know you are glad they told you about their feelings and that it makes sense for them to feel that way.
- Help your young child brainstorm productive responses to their problem. Depending on the problem, these solutions may focus on solving the problem itself, such as asking a younger sibling to stop teasing them. In other cases, the solutions may focus on helping them tolerate the situation, such as leaving the room if their younger sibling won’t stop.
We know that pausing a chaotic day to coach your child through their emotions might feel challenging some days. When you’re working from home and having a meeting with your boss, using screen time to quickly calm a crying child may seem like the best option. Unfortunately, using technology to distract your child from their feelings can hinder their ability to develop emotional regulation skills if it becomes a habit.1
Whenever possible, try to take the time to help your child learn how to work through their emotions to help build their emotional strength. It’s an important life skill and can improve their behavior in the long run
Offer Mindful Feedback
We touched on how offering mindful feedback can help affirm your child’s emotionally intelligent behaviors. The same concept applies when you’re trying to help your child improve their emotional regulation and social skills.
Consider the following tips:
- Offer encouragement – Studies suggest that vague, optimistic praise like “You can do it!” or giving a kid a celebratory high-five can help motivate them to keep trying when things feel difficult. Encouraging your child to come up with solutions for handling their emotional problems without jumping in to solve things for them can help them develop resilience in the face of challenging situations.
- Use process praise (even when you want to improve the end result) – Offering process praise can help your child focus on what they can control.3 That’s especially true when your child fails at some emotional regulation. Validating what your child did well—“I’m proud of you for telling your friends that their words were hurting your feelings”—before you move on to what didn’t go well—“but it’s not okay to push people”—can help your child feel understood and focus on developing a better process for dealing with their emotions.
- Avoid insincere praise – Studies suggest that praising your child for something they didn’t do can hurt their self-esteem over time.3 For example, telling your child, “I’m proud of how kind you act to all of your classmates,” when you know your child has been fighting with one classmate can imply that they don’t deserve your praise or that they can’t trust your praise. It’s better to focus on sincere praise they can believe.
Taken together, you can use these tactics with your emotion-regulation-script to help you avoid accidentally dismissing your child’s emotions or unintentionally framing your child’s negative emotions as things to be squashed. Instead, we want to help them identify their emotions, learn limits, and develop appropriate behaviors for dealing with their emotions.
Using Slumberkins Support Your Child’s Emotional Growth
At Slumberkins, our method focuses on helping support your child’s emotional strength, good character, and development. Co-CEOs Kelly Oriard and Callie Christensen use their backgrounds in family counseling and elementary education to create products like social emotional learning books that can support you in forming healthy bonds with your child and help them develop and grow.
You can browse our books on connection, books about authenticity, or even a book on Bigfoot to see how this lovable character copes with hurt feelings in order to help guide your child through some of life’s most important traits and challenges.
Our early childhood social emotional learning collection includes books, stuffed animal characters, a unit plan, and a card game to help children identify and work through their emotions in a healthy way.
You work incredibly hard to raise the children in your life. When you need support, we’re here to lend a hand. Browse our collection today.
- "How to Strengthen Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence." The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/strengthen-childs-emotional-intelligence/
- "Emotional Intelligence." Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/emotional-intelligence
- Dewar, Gwen. "The effects of praise: 7 evidence-based tips for using praise wisely." Parenting Science. 2019. https://parentingscience.com/effects-of-praise/