How to instil emotional intelligence in your child

Dr Tamara Lang, Dean of Wellbeing


As parents, we are comfortable teaching skills, like how to kick a football or tie a shoe lace. We’re even used to teaching knowledge – mathematics and spelling. We can see the need for social etiquette,  as we regularly remind our children to “eat with your mouth closed” and “use your manners!” But what of emotional intelligence? Emotions and developing personal awareness of them seems like a very abstract thing to teach

Yet teaching emotional intelligence is very important… Emotional intelligence encompasses four elements:

1. Self awareness: Some children – and adults too, are quite unaware of their emotions. They are in the grip of them before realising what is happening. With young children, we have a program at Kambala called “You Can Do It’ which teaches emotional awareness and regulation.

With older children and young adults, it helps to reflect back to them what they are experiencing emotionally. Mirror back to them with reflective listening, what you see on their faces or in their behaviour.

You can say things such as: “You’re angry you didn’t get into the top hockey team” or “You’re feeling sad because you didn’t get invited for the sleepover”. It sounds very artificial yet can help children identify their own intense feelings. Reflecting without judging is very powerful.


2. Self management: This is about managing stress and managing moods. Helping your child connect with simple mindfulness activities is really useful here. Such gentle activities as becoming more aware of their surroundings, “Can you hear the birds outside?” “Can you feel your clothes on your skin?” gently connect children with their senses and the present moment. There is not so much stress when we’re fully present and this helps them become aware of their emotions and manage them.


3. Social awareness: This element is largely about learning to read situations and other people. With young children, talk about what emotions you see in pictures (“Do you think the girl looks sad or angry? Why?”). Ask them what emotions they think characters in stories experience. The gentle process of ‘putting themselves in another’s shoes’ is useful.

With older children, storytelling using your own family and life is great. You don’t have to make a moral point with your story, just give them a broader perspective.

The ultimate output of emotional intelligence is the ability to relate successfully with others. Young women, in particular desperately want to learn how to manage conflict with their peers.

Talking conflicts through with a trusted adult can help them navigate through consequences or understand another’s point of view. Gently question them: “What do you think would happen if you did that?”  “How can you solve the problem?”  Don’t give them the answers or rescue them. They can usually figure it out for themselves if they’re given sufficient space and guidance.

At Kambala, we want to educate the whole child. It’s about their emotional intelligence as well as their intellect. It’s about supporting them so they know they have caring adults to depend upon.