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Understanding Emotional Intelligence & How to Build & Model Emotional Intelligence for your

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence is identifying and understanding our own emotions and feelings, plus having the ability to cope and process our feelings and emotions in a healthy, productive manner. Emotional Intelligence is also being able to show empathy to others and respond to their feelings appropriately. Being Emotionally Intelligent involves knowing yourself, your feelings, beliefs, and needs as well as knowing how and when to compromise in social settings as needed.

Why is emotional Intelligence important?

Emotional Intelligence was found to be one of the greatest predictors of a child being successful in the future and was a stronger predictor over IQ scores, awards, sports abilities, musical abilities, or other achievements. When you are able to regulate your emotions and feelings you can be more effective in stressful or challenging situations. Emotional Intelligence helps children be more effective at home, school, church, and other social situations. Emotional Intelligence helps us maintain and develop meaningful relationships with others and set appropriate boundaries in those relationships.

How do you develop emotional intelligence in your child?

Dr. John Gottman, a clinician and researcher, has completed over 40 years of research on marriage and families. Dr. Gottman, along with his wife Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, developed a five-step method called Emotion Coaching. Emotion Coaching gives parents the tools to build emotional intelligence that will create positive and long lasting effects for children, while also connecting with their children, and creating and maintaining strong and trusting relationships.

Five steps of emotion coaching:

1. Be aware of your child’s emotions:

Observe your child and how they act when they are experiencing different feelings. Notice how their tone or rate of speech changes when they get excited or upset. Watch their facial expressions when they are disgusted by something, or when they get quiet because they feel sad or someone hurts their feelings. When we recognize lower intensity emotions such as jealousy or disappointment, we have the opportunity to coach a child through difficult emotions before the feelings intensify or lead to negative behaviors and actions.

2. Recognize emotion as a time for connection:

We must feel safe and accepted to be able to form connections with others. When others react to us defensively or dismiss our emotions, we tend to disconnect and easily become frustrated because others do not understand how we are feeling. This can lead to more intense behaviors or acting out on their feelings. How people act towards us when we feel vulnerable or are experiencing intense emotions determines if we find connection with that person or become more guarded and disconnected. Dr. Gottman shares this formula in his heart of parenting book “Magic Moments = Emotion + Connection.” (Gottman, Declaire, & Goleman, 2015)

3. Help your child verbally label emotions:

The more we talk about feelings and model labeling emotions in the home, the safer it feels to share our feelings and emotions with our family. The more emotions can be expressed verbally and validated, the less you see emotions being expressed though negative behaviors. Helping your child find the right words to express how they are feeling is very important. With younger children help them use simple words to label their feelings like: sad, angry, and happy. As their emotional vocabulary expands and they understand more complex emotions such as: misunderstood, overwhelmed, rejected and ashamed.

4. Communicate empathy and understanding:

Understanding and empathy does not mean that you agree with your child or the way that they feel, and it also is not trying to problem solve. Empathy is to show that you understand what they are feeling. Empathy is not about discipline or praise and will not reinforce your child for having hard feelings but rather create an opportunity for connection and understanding. When showing empathy you are helping your child understand that he is not the only one struggling with difficult emotions or feelings. Most importantly, it helps your child feel heard and loved. Expressing empathy can be as simple as saying, “I can see why you would be disappointed” or “that must have been really frustrating, can you tell me more?”

5. Set limits and problem solve:

All feelings are acceptable; however, not all behaviors are acceptable. When a child is showing negative behaviors it is important to set limits on undesirable behaviors. When we share how we feel about the behavior, make sure you are addressing the actions and not the character of the child. “Hitting is not okay” is a different message than, “You are so bad, I can’t believe you did that.” When we use criticism as a part of punishment, we damage the relationship with the child, and it can also have negative effects on their self-confidence. When we set limits and give punishments, our conversations should be short and concise. Most of the time children know why they are in trouble and don’t need to have things rehashed over and over. When problem solving always ask your child, “what should we do now?” or “how do you want to handle this?” You will be surprised that they are very capable of coming up with solutions. Always clarify your understanding of the problem and give them the opportunity to correct any misinformation. When you recommend solutions, walk your child through the pros and cons of the solutions that you have come up with. When leaving a discussion, agree on a time to check in on how things are going to see if the solution is working.

*For more information about emotion coaching, check out Dr. John Gottman’s book:

Gottman, J. M., Declaire, J., & Goleman, D. (2015). Heart of Parenting: How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks

Sarah Azotea, LCSW, leads therapy groups, conducts individual sessions and provides parent-coaching at Art It Out's Vinings location. For more information about her services, visit:

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