Emotional Intelligence can be learned in so many situations - at home, in school, on the playground. In fact, it's a main reason some parents choose to send their children to daycare/preschool before formal schooling, or take kids to play dates, etc. EQ is a natural part of our interactions with the environment around us.
It's possible to forget though, that children's emotions are often big and overwhelming, and they don't always have the skills to manage these emotions when needed. You know what? I don't even know if we adults always have the full skillset required to deal with life's hurdles - myself included! EQ is something we should always be working on. It's a skill to be honed over the years, and requires consistent monitoring and evaluation, AKA personal reflection and insight.
Luckily, we can teach them about emotions. We start with the basics, like what are emotions, why do we have them, and what emotions are there?
What are emotions? In the most basic terms, emotions are our body's reaction to situations, that tell us more about what's happening around us.
Why do we have them? Well, most simply, so we can adapt and respond effectively (ex. fear/anxiety are necessary for our survival in the face of danger - a bear on our path alerts our body to respond with urgency to protect our safety).
What emotions are there? With preschoolers, it's helpful to start with the basics, happy, sad, angry/mad, scared. Although my 3 year old uses the terms "nervous" and "worried" in the right context, so I really thing children can learn much more than the basics at a young age. Into the school years, you can add to the list - worried, shy, bored, grumpy, frustrated, etc. Into the upper elementary years, words like jealous, devastated, irritated, paranoid, etc, can be helpful to help them express the emotions they are likely to feel moving into middle school. All of these more complex emotions tend to have their roots in the basics, though. For example, paranoid is a more sophisticated version of fear. Shy is also a more sophisticated version of fear (fear of social rejection, perhaps). Devastated is simply a deeper, more ground-shaking version of sad.
So, with all of this information in your back pocket, how do we begin teaching EQ to kids? The easiest and most natural way, perhaps, is to make use of their existing environment. As they read books, ask them to identify which ones are happy/scared/mad/sad. Once this seems fairly easy, move onto asking "why do you think they feel that way?", which gets them thinking about the situations that caused the emotion. Television shows consistently demonstrate emotions, reactions, problem solving (or lack-there-of), which can help kids reflect on the emotions of others, and eventually themselves.
Asking them how they feel about X activity, about their report card, about the interaction with a friend that day at school, etc. All of these things are already happening in their lives, it's just a matter of prompting them to reflect on their own experiences. Once they can reflect, they can then begin to problem solve with you.... More on this in another post :)
If you are looking for resources to begin incorporating EQ into kids lives beyond these examples, we have created a few games/activities. Our colouring book (printable download) is something children naturally gravitate to, because they already colour so naturally in other environments. In it, you'll find black and white illustrations of various children expressing a range of emotions. It also has activities, which act as prompts to reflect on times when they've felt happy/sad/etc.
Our cards (printable download) offer you the chance to use these same illustrations in another way, as a memory game, as flash cards, as a way for children to identify what they are feeling, and really whatever else you can think of.
Simply interacting with these games/activities is enough to make EQ a common part of life - you don't have to do anything fancy, formal, or super structured. It just gives kids a chance to know that it's normal to talk about these things. You can find these products at www.eqkids.online, and you can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook where we share lots of other resources that can help (reading books, articles, etc). Because it's never too early to start learning about EQ!