What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognise and manage emotions in ourselves and others.
Unlike rational intelligence (IQ) which is fixed, or at least quite hard to change, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can be practised and developed at any age. It’s, therefore, a good skill to focus on as parents.
Whilst we don’t actually have two separate brains. These two types of intelligence occur in very different parts of the brain. Our rational thinking happens in the upper brain (the neocortex), whereas our emotions are triggered in the lower reptilian part of the brain.
They are therefore two very different types of intelligence. And someone can have a high IQ and a low EQ, or vice versa.
Five ways to develop your emotional intelligence
Before we can teach our kids something, we should always try to learn it ourselves. So let’s start by looking at five ways to boost our emotional intelligence as dads.
1. Build your self-awareness
It’s important to be able to recognise and label your emotions. And there are various ways we can train ourselves to do that.
Some people like to practice mindfulness or meditation, as a way to observe their emotions.
Another option is to keep an emotions journal or a mood-book, whereby you jot down any feelings you experience during the day.
The objective is to start recognising emotions in yourself, without judging them or necessarily acting on them, but just being aware that they are there.
2. Talk about your emotions
This is something men are often not very good at. But talking about your emotions is a great way to increase your emotional intelligence.
Try to talk about your feelings with your partner, your kids and your friends.
Warning – please choose your timing and your friends carefully. 🙂 Sometimes “how are you” is just a greeting, not an invitation for a download of your emotions.
However, by looking for ‘appropriate’ opportunities to discuss your feelings with others, or to ask them about their’s, you will increase your self-awareness and your ability to recognise emotions in other people.
3. Use your body
Our bodies are a great tool for increasing our Emotional Intelligence.
Firstly, you can learn to recognise the physical signs of emotion in your body; such as a blush to signal embarrassment, butterflies in the stomach for nerves, or the increased heart rate and adrenaline that accompany anger.
These are primitive responses that are programmed into our genes. We can’t stop them, but we can learn to get better at recognising them.
We can also use our bodies to help manage or regulate our emotions.
For instance, try holding a pen between your teeth or forcing a big fake smile on your face. Now try to be sad. It’s quite hard to do. This is because your body is sending a message to your brain to tell it you are happy. It’s a very simple example, but it demonstrates the point.
There has been a lot of research into this link between our bodies and emotions. In this Ted Talk, by Amy Cuddy, she explains how changing our body position can directly impact our hormones and emotions.
By being aware of this, you can start using your body as a way to regulate your emotions.
Take a few deep breaths if you are feeling nervous, or get up and go for a walk if you are stressed. It’s amazing how changing our physiology can have an immediate effect on our emotions.
4. Practise reading other people’s body language
As we’ve seen in the previous example, emotions trigger responses in our bodies. Therefore if we can learn to read other people’s faces and body language, we can often understand what emotions they are experiencing.
If you want to practice reading body language, try watching the TV with the volume on mute. Choose a drama program (not the football) and see if you can follow the plot and the emotions of the characters by observing their body language and facial expressions. It’s a great way to develop empathy and build your EQ.
5. The 2-second rule
One of the simplest and most effective tricks to help increase your EQ is to embrace the power of the pause.
Whenever you notice your emotions rising, or recognise that the other person is getting emotional, you can employ the 2-second rule, which is this:
Pause for two seconds before you respond.
This gives your rational brain time to catch up with your emotional brain and it can be the difference between reacting (automatically) and responding (thoughtfully).
Five ways to develop emotional intelligence for kids
Now let’s look at some ways to help our children develop their EQ. The good news is that it’s a skill that can be taught from a very young age. So whatever age they are, there are lots of things you can do to help develop emotional intelligence for kids.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Model it yourself
The best way to teach anything to our kids is to model the behaviour ourselves. So by developing your EQ, you will be helping them develop theirs.
Recognise your emotions, talk about them and let your kids see you dealing with them.
And if you struggle with your emotions from time-to-time, that’s perfectly normal. Don’t be ashamed to let your kids know this.
Maybe you lose your patience and yell at your kids. Once you cool down, acknowledge it with them and apologise. Let them see that it’s okay to make a mistake and use it as a learning opportunity to discuss these emotions with them.
If they can see that you also have difficulty with emotions sometimes, they will be more willing to recognise their own emotions and better placed to start dealing with them.
“For the first nine or ten years, children learn mainly through imitation. Your emotions, and the way that you manage them, is the model they ‘imprint’, more than what you say or instruct about emotions.”Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting
2. Validate your kid’s emotions
We don’t choose our emotions. And we can’t stop them from happening. The only thing we can control is how we respond to them. It’s important to remember this when teaching emotional intelligence for kids.
If kids are experiencing an emotion, we should validate what they are feeling, even if it seems illogical to us. These are their feelings and they are real.
If we start by validating the emotion (e.g. “I can see you are feeling angry, that’s okay, I feel angry sometimes too”), we can then help them learn to deal with that emotion.
Always start by validating. And never, ever, dismiss the emotion or tell a kid they are wrong for feeling that way.
3. Role-playing games
Role-playing can be a great way to help kids develop empathy because they are putting themselves in someone else’s shoes and seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.
Reading fictional stories is another great way to help develop this skill.
4. Talk about emotions
Finding ways to help your children talk about feelings will help develop their emotional intelligence. There are various ways to do this, depending on the age of your children. But here are a couple of strategies parents can use to trigger a conversation on emotions.
Best and worst:
Asking each family member to share the best and worst thing that happened to them today is a good way to facilitate a dinner-time conversation about feelings. The initial question gets the conversations started and you can then follow up with further questions to explore what they felt and why they felt that way.
Discuss books and media
If you are reading a book with your kids, ask them what they think the characters are feeling and why. Then ask them if they have ever felt that emotion. The same can be done when watching a TV program or even the news.
5. Emotions charts
Emotion charts can be a good way to help kids identify and label their emotions. For younger kids, you can use pictures or drawings of faces (there are plenty available online), or you can also use the emoticons on your phone for this purpose. Ask them to point to the emotion they experienced and help them to label it.
The Feeling Wheel
For older kids and adults, I’ve created The Dad Train Feeling Wheel, which has 130 different emotions on it. This is a tool you can use to discuss emotions with your kids and improve your emotional literacy.
Men often have smaller emotional vocabularies compared to women. So this is a particularly useful tool for us dads to use.
Resources referenced above
- Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk: Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are
- Online EQ Test – pick the emotions on the faces
- Emotional Intelligence: Book, by Daniel Goleman