Emotional development is an important aspect of a child’s overall well-being. As parents and caregivers, understanding how to help young children process and understand their emotions is key.

This blog explores practical tips for fostering emotional intelligence in children, supported by references from child development experts. 

1. Create a Safe and Supportive Environment

When children feel safe, they will feel comfortable sharing their feelings. To encourage emotional expression, it’s essential to create a safe and supportive environment. This can be achieved through active listening, validating their emotions, and avoiding judgment. The work of child psychologists John Gottman and Daniel Goleman emphasizes the significance of emotional safety in fostering healthy emotional development (Gottman, 1997; Goleman, 1995).

A child wearing heart shaped sunglasses

2. Teach Emotional Vocabulary

A rich emotional vocabulary can help children not only identify, but articulate their emotions. Use simple language to describe various feelings and encourage children to verbally express what they are experiencing. Emotional intelligence pioneer Marc Brackett emphasizes the importance of this skill, as it equips children with the language they need to express their internal feelings ( Brackett, Rivers, & Salovey, 2011).

Begin by introducing basic emotions such as happy, sad, angry, and scared. As they become familiar with these core feelings, gradually expand your child’s emotional language to include more nuanced terms like excited, frustrated, or content.

It’s important to encourage children to express how they feel in a variety of situations – whether it’s during playtime, school, or while facing challenges. Ask open-ended questions like, “How did that make you feel?” or “Can you tell me more about what you’re experiencing?”

Creating a “feelings chart” can also be helpful. Use colorful visuals and simple drawings to represent different emotions. This visual aid can serve as a handy tool for children to point to when they’re experiencing a strong emotion, fostering a deeper connection between the word and feeling.

3. Model Healthy Emotional Expressions

Children learn through observation. As parents and caregivers, it is important to model healthy emotional expressions. This involves demonstrating constructive easy to navigate a range of emotions, from joy and excitement to frustration and disappointment.

A key aspect of modeling is acknowledging and expressing a diverse array of emotions. Share your own feelings when you are faced with a challenge. Describe how you cope in certain situations. When you verbalize your emotional experiences, you give your child the permission to do the same.

It is important to demonstrate healthy coping mechanisms. Whether it’s taking a short break, practicing mindfulness, or engaging in a creative activity, showcasing positive ways to manage emotions can have a lasting impact.

4. Playtime is a Powerful Tool

Play is a powerful tool for emotional development. It provides a safe and imaginative space where children can explore and learn how to process their emotions. 

Engage your child in activities that encourage creativity, such as drawing, storytelling, or role-playing. These activities provide opportunities for them to externalize and make sense of their emotions.

Playtime is also great for building strong social-emotional skills through interaction with peers. Group activities and games can teach children important lessons about cooperation, sharing, and empathy.

Two children jumping on a colorful rug

5. Books are Great Resources

Reading books together can be another effective way to reinforce emotional lessons. Some children’s books that address various emotions and promote healthy emotional processing are:

  • “The Way I Feel” by Janan Cain
  • “In My Heart: A Book of Feelings” by Jo Witek
  • “Today I Feel Silly” by Jamie Lee Curtis
  • “The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions” by Anna Llenas
  • “When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, really, Angry….” by Molly Bang

Well crafted stories can have a profound impact on shaping a child’s emotional intelligence (Lemish, 2014). Children’s books can offer relatable narratives that mirror the emotional experiences of young ones.

A cover of a child’s book called “Today I Feel Silly”

By relying on these tips and incorporating emotionally resonant books into your child’s routine, you can contribute to and support their emotional well-being. Nurturing emotional intelligence is an ongoing process, and a parent’s support plays a crucial role in helping their young child navigate an often complex world.

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  • Gottman, J.M. (1997). “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.”
  • Goleman, D.  (1995). “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”
  • Brackett, M.A., Rivers, S.E., & Salovey, P. (2011). “Emotion Education: A Case for Teaching Emotional Intelligence in Schools.”
  • Lemish, D. (2014). “Children and Media: A Global Perspective.”
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