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The Emotional Intelligence Skills Parents Need to Teach Kids

Research has found that if someone feels empathy, even if it’s just from watching a touching video, it can make them feel more connected to — and generous toward — others. In other words, practicing empathy with your kids can help them grow up to be emotionally intelligent adults. Based on our 60 years of combined experience working with parents and their kids, here are some of the most effective ways to teach children empathy.

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The Secret to Raising a Resilient Kid

Resiliency is the ability to engage with a challenge, risk or impediment, and come out the other side with some measure of success. It’s a psychological principle blending optimism, flexibility, problem-solving and motivation.

 

Most experts say resiliency is something that can be fostered, nurtured, and developed in children from a very young age.

 

The ability to bounce back is more important now than ever; here’s how to impart it.

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Ways Parents Can Build Kid’s EQ

Incorporate Emotional Intelligence into family fun

Summer evokes a long-standing pastime for families to take a break from the school year and work. Picnics, amusement park rides, and getaway excursions usually top the list of things to do. But have you thought about including self-awareness into your list of family activities?

  • Want to watch engaging puppets act out their emotions?
  • Learn some catchy and educational dance steps?
  • Or show your artistic side in an online adventure game?

Families can interpersonally connect with each other when they engage their feelings and those of others.  Emotions matter, and practicing mindfulness, empathy, and self-awareness are the building blocks of emotional intelligence. So why not start instilling these characteristics in the formative years to become second nature in adulthood.   

Check out the following list of resources.  Most of the sites provide free access. 

Many are entertaining, such as the Sesame Street videos, while others are enlightening and informative. There’s something for everyone from pre-K to adults!

Store

​​Welcome to the Big EQ Shop! 

Our store has a variety of plush dolls, card games, and books free or paid for. 

Video games with emotional intelligence themes:

The Game | Online Activities For Mental Health

Go Noodle Games and Videos

Toolkits

Parents Online Resources EQuipOurKids and Family Online Resources EquipOurKids 

Includes links to free and paid EQ home games.

Social Skills for Parents TODAY 

Books and guides for Pre-K to Post High School ages. 

Social and Emotional Development Videos

Share Song Sesame Street 

Play Together

Difficult Tough Talks Sesame Street

Love My Hair Sesame Street (Engish/Spanish)

Name That Emotion with Murray!

Mindful Physical Activities

https://cosmickids.com/

Bring out your inner Zen with this yoga application. Try it out for two weeks free. 

Why Are Some People Mean? | Cosmic Kids Zen Den (Mindfulness for Kids)

How to Make Good Choices | Zen Den | Mindfulness for Kids

Zen Den | How to Deal with Nightmares | Mindfulness for Kids

Yoga Class: Following My Teacher | Sesame Street 

Song: Elmo’s Got the Moves | Sesame Street 

Song Dance – Elmo Slide Sesame Street

For Adults

EQ Tips, Exercises, and Videos  

The guide includes meditation audio to relieve mental stress.

When families engage their senses, they bring balance to their lives and improve relationships. Adding awareness activities shows parents and children a mental map on how they can empower their interactions through emotional intelligence-building games, physical activities, and more.

Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

Happiness is a Skill Kids Can Learn & Practice

A parent’s job is to teach their kids life skills. Skills such as self care, how to read and write, what to do in an emergency, tying their shoes or how to play an instrument or sport. 

But can parents also teach their kids happiness?

Many people think of happiness as a matter of innate personality traits (such as temperament, cheerfulness and outlook) and life circumstances. Basically, if you have a positive attitude and you catch a couple of lucky breaks in life you’ll be happy. Conversely, if you go through a series of external challenges and are more of a “glass half empty” person, you’ll be miserable. 

But, as it turns out, happiness comes down to a set of skills you can teach to your kids and help them practice until they become routine habits.

Why Teach Happiness

In short, the happier we are, the more successful we become.

Research has long shown that happy people are more successful across a multitude of life domains:

Happy people are also better able to multitask and endure boredom and are more creative, trusting and helpful.Teaching happiness to kids has protected students against the decline in self satisfaction, satisfaction with friends and positive emotions that are typically reported by kids starting their middle school years.

In other words, teaching happiness is one of the best things you can do to set your kids up for success in both the short and long term.

The RULER Framework for Teaching Happiness

As you can likely tell, “RULER” is an acronym for five skills that can be taught and practiced to increase happiness:

  • Recognizing emotions: How am I feeling right now? Physical cues such as posture, energy levels, breathing and heart rate, can help children identify what emotions they’re feeling throughout the day and how their feelings have affected their interactions with others.
  • Understanding the causes of emotions: What happened that led me to feel this way? Figuring out possible causes behind feelings can help kids anticipate and manage uncomfortable feelings and help them consciously embrace things that lead feels we want to foster.
  • Labeling emotions accurately: What words best describe how I’m feeling right now? Both adults and children have access to more than 2,000 words in the English language that can describe emotions. However, most of us stick to a limited vocabulary (“good”, “fine”, “sad”, “mad”, etc.). Cultivating a rich emotional vocabulary allows children to pinpoint and communicate exactly how they’re feeling.
  • Expressing emotions appropriately: How can I express myself in this time and place? Explaining to kids what we are doing and why when it comes to expressing our feelings gives them models they can follow when they express their own emotions at home, with friends or at school.

Regulating emotions: How do I continue feeling emotions I want to feel or shift my feelings if I’m not? Strategies to manage emotions both in the moment and in the long term are critical to overall happiness.

Tools and Activities that Teach Happiness

In addition to modeling behaviors and actions that demonstrate the RULER framework in action, parents, teachers and other adults can promote emotional intelligence and happiness skills through activities and games.

Mood meters

The mood meter is a simple and concrete tool that helps shift conversations about feelings away from the rote “good” or “fine” to more nuanced responses like “curious”, “excited”, “scared” or “confident”.

Mood meters have two axes: 

  • The horizontal axis represents how pleasant or “good” it feels to experience this emotion. The far left represents the least pleasant you can imagine feeling and the far right represents the most pleasant. 
  • The vertical axis represents how much physical energy we feel while experiencing an emotion. The bottom of the range represents feeling drained of all energy, as if you can hardly move. The top of the axis represents feeling essentially the maximum amount of energy possible in your body.

When plotted out, these axes form 4 color-coded quadrants

  • Red: The top left quadrant containing high-energy and unpleasant feelings
  • Yellow: The top right quadrant represents energetic and pleasant emotions
  • Blue: The bottom left quadrant is made up of unpleasant feelings that rob us of physical energy
  • Green: The bottom right quadrant has higher energy and more pleasant emotions

Image by: Solutions for a Better Day

By using the mood meter, kids learn how to recognize their emotions based on what they’re feeling physically and emotionally. 

As children learn to use the mood meter they learn more and more feelings words to describe emotions that fall into each quadrant, helping them to label their emotions with more nuance and depth than before. 

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the mood meter tool is that it teaches kids that there are no “good” or “bad” feelings.

There are feelings that are more pleasant or energizing than others, but all emotions are valid and ok to feel. And for less pleasant feelings, they can use the mood meter to recognize, understand and label those feelings and use that information to better express and respond to those feelings.

Read-alouds

Read-alouds activities involve reading a story or scenario and then having children discuss and answer questions about the characters thoughts and emotions over the course of the narrative. These stories can be anywhere from just a few paragraphs for younger kids, all the way up to full chapter books as they get older. 

Read-Aloud Sample Questions
RecognizeWhat is the character feeling in this moment? How do you know they’re feeling that way?
UnderstandWhat happened in the story to make the character feel this way? What makes you feel this way in real life?
LabelWhere would this character’s feeling fall on the mood meter? What color would you give this feeling?
ExpressWhat did the character do or how did they act when they felt this emotion? What else do people do with they feel this way?
RegulateWhat could the character do to help them feel something more pleasant? What do you do when you feel this way? What would you do for a friend who was feeling this way?

For younger kids, pairing a read-aloud with the mood meter helps them practice applying emotional intelligence to the story’s character in a context with which they are familiar and experienced. 

Printing out pictures of characters from the story and moving them around a mood meter as their feelings change helps kids better prepare to deal with their own range of emotions.

Read-alouds are great activities to expand children’s knowledge of feelings and introduce them to new vocabulary for expressing their emotions. Parents and teachers can choose specific stories that are relevant to certain vocabulary they want to teach. 

A story about a visit to the dentist can be used to teach words like “nervous”, “anxious” or “confident”.

Sharing personal experiences with emotions

Parents and teachers can share short and simple stories about a life experience and describe the emotions they felt during this experience. Hearing about the feelings and experiences of adults helps children understand helpful ways to express and regulate their emotions. 

By openly talking about their own feelings and describing how those emotions looked and felt and how they expressed them, parents and teachers can foster an environment where children feel safe and supported in sharing their own feelings. 

Like a read-aloud, personal stories should involve a discussion surrounding your feelings and actions. 

Conclusion

Parents, teachers and other caregivers can help children develop and practice the skill of happiness through a whole slew of games and activities. Embedding the RULER framework and tools such as mood meters and read-alouds, we can help kids develop the EQ foundation necessary for lasting happiness. 

Whichever tools and activities you use, what matters is taking the time to help kids recognize and understand their emotions so they can express them in an appropriate and constructive manner. 

By taking these few, simple steps, you can boost you children’s EQ and help better prepare them for long-term successful outcomes in all facets of their life.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Take This EQ Self-Assessment

1-Self-Awareness

  • What are my thoughts and feelings?
  • What causes those thoughts and feelings?
  • How can I express my thoughts and feelings respectfully?

2-Self-Management

  • What different responses can I have to an event?
  • How can I respond to an event as constructively as possible?

3-Social Awareness

  • How can I better understand other people’s thoughts and feelings?
  • How can I better understand why people feel and think the way they do?

4-Relationship Skills

  • How can I adjust my actions so that my interactions with different people turn out well?
  • How can I communicate my expectations to other people?
  • How can I communicate with other people to understand and manage their expectations of me?

5-Responsible Decision Making

  • What consequences will my actions have on me and others?
  • How do my choices align with my values?
  • How can I solve problems creatively?
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The Power of SEL

Social-Emotional Learning  empowers children to manage their own behavior in positive and productive ways, shifting control to the child.

This counters the “compliance model” widely used in U.S. schools, where adults hold all the power in classrooms and children are passive participants, not drivers of their own development and learning.

Being active in their own development is fundamental to children’s Emotional Intelligence learning, along with acquiring the ability to manage one’s emotions. Managing one’s emotions is hardly a given for a large segment of the population that, without this learning, is beset with remarkably high numbers of people suffering from anxiety or depression, anger issues, or high degrees of interpersonal conflict, violence and suicide.

In fact, most of us experience more emotional upsets and their consequences than we would prefer – in relationships, work, friendships, and in the everyday course of life.

This may be good for the bottom lines of pharmaceutical companies and therapists but is hugely costly in infinite ways to the common good and to the pocketbook of the society as a whole.

Neuroscience readily supports the positive effects of Social-Emotional Learning. Emotional reactions have been found to reside in the primordially-earlier lower brain around the amygdala while more sophisticated learning, thinking, and creativity occur in the later-in-evolution frontal lobes or “higher brain.” Brain scans show that when the lower brain is activated by emotional upset it lights up while the higher brain literally goes dark in activity.

The implications for students can’t be overstated – all learning stops while students are emotionally agitated, with their minds either distracted or full of negative thoughts about themselves, others or the situations they are in(Read more about Neuroscience.)

Conversely, academic learning takes place on a rapid scale once students are taught to manage their emotions and responses. Surveys of student and teacher satisfaction often soar into the 90 percentile after a school prioritizes Social-Emotional Learning.

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An important note: Social-Emotional Learning should not be confused with what educators call “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS),” a widely implemented system based on “carrot-like” tangible rewards.

Moreover, in uninformed reports, some EQ goals and subset practices are mistakenly taken for the entire complex of EQ learnings students experience. Examples are “violence prevention,” “anti-bullying,” “grit,” “resilience,” “mindfulness” and “growth mindset” practices – the latter a training to be able to take on challenges and failures as normal and educational in themselves rather than as obstacles and defeats.

One other note: Education is littered with competing terms for Social-Emotional Learning, among them “emotional literacy,” “non-cognitive education,” “character education,” and “ethical and moral development.” By whatever name, schools adopting such learning should include the core competencies explained here and their goal should be the other term popular with educators: “Whole Child Development.”

Stonehenge

A Short History of Emotional Intelligence

The concept of EQ sprang from the landmark work of Harvard Education Professor Dr. Howard Gardner’s 1983-published theory about the “multiple intelligences” that humans possess. Specifically, EQ falls into a category he defined as ”inter- and intrapersonal” intelligence.

Building on this, two researchers – then Yale psychology professor Peter Salovey (now president of Yale) and University of New Hampshire psychology professor John D. Mayer – published an influential paper in 1990 introducing the term “Emotional Intelligence,” which Goleman cites in his work.

The term EQ over time often became coupled with the term “social intelligence,” meaning the ability to understand, empathize with, and influence the emotions of others.

From Goleman: “In practical terms, this means being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively), and learning how to manage those  emotions – both our own and others – especially when we are under pressure.”

Marc Brackett, Director of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, and Susan Rivers, protégés of Salovey, put it this way: “The process of integrating thinking, feeling, and behaving in order to become aware of the self and of others, make responsible decisions, and manage one’s own behaviors and those of others.”

Psychology Today dives in with this definition: “The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving….[and] the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.”

Youth-focused approaches that combine EQ development with other life skills have now come to be defined by the term Social-Emotional Learning by educators and in child development and psychology realms, as well as in certain business quarters that apply such learning to adults.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, the nation’s leading SEL practice, policy, and research organization, defines SEL as “the process through which children (and adults) acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

CASEL pointedly notes that for SEL to be highly effective it needs to “nest” and be practiced in all school environments by all staff, including integrated in academic classes and non-class activities, in community service by students, and with parents integrated at the school level.

CASEL believes that SEL, correctly implemented, is the platform and process for a potential revolutionary leap forward in educating the “whole child.”

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For Some Teens, It’s Been a Year of Anxiety and Trips to the E.R.

“When the pandemic first hit the Bay Area last spring, Ann thought that her son, a 17-year-old senior, was finally on track to finish high school. He had kicked a heavy marijuana habit and was studying in virtual classes while school was closed. The first wave of stay-at-home orders shut down his usual routines — sports, playing music with friends. But the stability didn’t last.”

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Keep Paying Attention to Your Kids’ Mental Health in This Pandemic

“For nearly a year, most of our children have been navigating the new, difficult normal: social isolation; deeply stressed parents; the effects of financial uncertainty; school from home — or from WiFi-equipped school buses if they don’t have internet. While Covid-19 itself has largely been sparing of children’s physical health, studies have shown it has taken a toll on their mental health, associated with an increase in suicide-related behaviors, experts say.”

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