Nurturing Emotional Intelligence in Children: Proven Strategies for Development

Emotional intelligence in children


Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to identify, understand, and manage one’s own emotions and respond effectively to the emotions of others. Research shows that emotional intelligence is critical for Early Childhood development and long-term success. Parents play a pivotal role in nurturing emotional intelligence in kids from an early age. By implementing proven strategies at home, parents can foster their child’s emotional growth and equip them with skills that will benefit them throughout life.

This article provides evidence-based techniques for how parents can cultivate emotional intelligence and empathy in their children. It covers modeling emotionally intelligent behavior, coaching emotions, teaching empathy and problem-solving skills. Additionally, it outlines the lifelong benefits of prioritizing emotional intelligence and offers practical tips for creating a supportive environment. With guidance, practice and patience, parents can nurture their child’s emotional awareness and resilience.

Modeling Emotionally Intelligent Behavior

Children learn by observation and imitation. By modeling emotionally intelligent behavior themselves, parents demonstrate important skills like self-awareness, self-regulation and sensitivity to others’ feelings.

To nurture EI, parents should be mindful of their own emotions. They can name their feelings out loud and speak calmly when frustrated. Through their actions, parents should show children how to handle anger constructively, practice self-care, and recover from setbacks.

Parents should also be attuned to their child’s emotions. Maintaining eye contact, actively listening and responding with empathy shows children their feelings are valued. A strong parent-child emotional connection builds trust and security.

In summary, modeling involves:

  • Awareness of own emotions
  • Constructive emotional expression
  • Empathy and validation of child’s perspective

This emotional awareness rubs off on children over time.

Emotion Coaching

Emotion coaching is a highly effective strategy parents can use to nurture emotional intelligence. It involves:

  1. Noticing when a child is upset
  2. Seeing it as an opportunity to connect and teach
  3. Validation and empathy for the child’s emotions
  4. Setting limits on behavior if needed
  5. Problem-solving together

Rather than dismissing anger or distress as bad behavior, parents should embrace emotional moments. They can say “I see you’re really upset because you can’t have ice cream before dinner. It’s hard to wait when you really want something.” This validates the emotion before redirecting behavior.

Through empathetic listening, parents teach children that all feelings are acceptable, even though some actions may not be. Children learn to integrate thinking and feeling to handle upsets.

Nurturing emotional intelligence

Labeling Emotions

Simple techniques like labeling emotions also builds emotional intelligence. When a child expresses sadness, anger or fear, the parent can reflect back “You seem sad that your toy broke. Tell me about it.”

Putting feelings into words activates the thinking centers of the brain, facilitating problem-solving. It also builds self-awareness and emotional vocabulary. Parents can use pictures, books and games to reinforce identifying emotions.

Expressing Emotions

Allowing children to express emotions freely, as long as they are not harming themselves or others, is important. Parents can teach children healthy ways to convey even intense feelings like anger through:

  • Talking about emotions
  • Deep breathing
  • Squeezing a soft toy
  • Taking a break
  • Exercising

Children also need to know it’s normal for emotions to rise and fall. The goal is emotional regulation, not suppression. Leading by example, parents should model appropriate emotional expression.

Teaching Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is a crucial emotional intelligence skill. Parents can teach empathy by:

  • Discussing characters’ emotions in books and movies
  • Role-playing different perspectives
  • Volunteering and community service
  • Caring for pets

When a child hurts others, the parent can say “Look, Johnny is crying because you pushed him. How would you feel if someone did that to you?” This builds awareness of how their actions impact others.

Problem-Solving Skills

Life presents challenges that inevitably evoke emotions. Parents need to equip children with coping strategies and problem-solving skills to handle difficulties constructively.

Parents can teach kids to:

  • Take deep breaths to calm down
  • Identify the problem
  • Come up with solutions
  • Evaluate the pros and cons
  • Pick the best option
  • Reflect afterward: How did I do? What would I change?

Developing this step-by-step approach to problems makes children more emotionally resilient.

Teaching empathy to kids

Additional Strategies for Enhancing Emotional Intelligence

Alongside the methods above, parents can further nurture emotional intelligence by:

  • Practicing feeling vocabulary like happy, sad, angry, disappointed etc.
  • Reading books about emotions and discussing how characters feel
  • Playing games that involve cooperating, turn taking and compromising
  • Encouraging journaling, art and music to express emotions
  • Fostering self-awareness through physical and mental self-care
  • Implementing social-emotional learning at home

As children develop emotionally, they become better at forming healthy relationships – a key indicator of high EI.

The Lifelong Benefits

The habits and skills nurtured through emotional intelligence serve children throughout their lives. Research shows EI contributes to:

  • Better academic performance and concentration
  • Positive social skills and relationships
  • Reduced risk of mental health problems like anxiety and depression
  • Overall health, well-being and life satisfaction

Children with higher emotional intelligence tend to have greater resilience, empathy and motivation to succeed. By making EI a priority early on, parents equip their kids for the future.

Practical Steps for Parents

There are many simple ways parents can begin fostering emotional intelligence at home:

  • Set a calm and consistent emotional tone – Children detect nonverbal cues. Keep a level tone and respond thoughtfully.
  • Make time for one-on-one connection – Focused playtime builds trust and communication.
  • Lead by example – Children imitate their parents’ emotional responses. Model healthy expression.
  • Praise emotional growth – Notice and praise your child’s emotional progress. “You did a great job calming down!”
  • Read together – Choose books and shows that depict emotions. Discuss how characters are feeling.
  • Problem solve as a team – When challenges arise, brainstorm solutions together.
  • Be patient – Emotional skills develop slowly over time. Persist through ups and downs.

With family support, children strengthen their emotional intelligence a little more each day.

Educational and Community Support

Parents partnering with schools and community resources maximizes EI growth. Many schools now implement evidence-based social-emotional learning (SEL) programs that teach self-awareness, self-control, empathy and conflict resolution. Parents can ask teachers how these skills are being fostered in school.

In the community, organizations like Scouts, sports teams and youth groups also emphasize teamwork, problem-solving and relationship skills. Seek out programs aligned with EI goals.

Child development

Real-Life Success Story: Sara

Sara struggled to label her feelings and control emotional outbursts as a young child. With coaching from her parents, Sara learned to recognize physiological cues, verbalize her feelings and take deep breaths when frustrated.

Now 11, Sara can discuss emotions maturely, stand up for herself and make friends easily. Her mother reflects: “We didn’t realize how important emotional intelligence was until we saw Sara really blossom socially and academically. Focusing on EI skills changed everything.”

Overcoming Challenges

However, parenting for emotional intelligence also comes with challenges:

Lack of time and energy – Emotion coaching is hands-on and time-consuming. But small daily efforts go a long way. Share the load as a team.

Difficulty with your own emotions – Unresolved trauma or poor coping skills in parents affect children. Seek help to become more emotionally aware.

Feeling unsure where to start – Every child develops at a different pace. Start small and build on little successes. Use books and online resources for guidance.

Child resistant to new skills – With patience and creativity, make EI fun through games, role play and interactive activities.

Problems at school – Meet with teachers regularly to align social-emotional goals at home and school. Seek counselors or child therapists for added support.

While challenges exist, parents should not become discouraged. Consistent nurturing of emotional intelligence will produce long-lasting positive effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does emotional intelligence affect academics?

EI contributes to better focus, perseverance and critical thinking – skills necessary for academic success. Children who constructively manage stress and emotions perform better in school.

What everyday activities build emotional intelligence?

Reading, pretend play, board games, chore charts with rewards, and family meetings to solve problems all build EI skills. Look for teachable moments in ordinary life.

Can emotional intelligence be taught in schools?

Yes, evidence-based SEL curricula taught by teachers nurtures EI skills systematically. Counselors can also provide emotional support.

What advice do child experts give for nurturing emotional intelligence?

Leading psychologists emphasize empathetic listening, embracing teachable moments, role modeling vulnerability and self-awareness, using emotional vocabulary, and cultivating sibling empathy.

How can I support Child development through play if my child has special needs?

Seek specialized therapies like play, music or art therapy tailored to your child. Connect with other parents and advocates. Focus on small attainable goals. Your child can continue building EI at their own pace.


Emotional intelligence is a key Child development milestone, not an optional extra. Research confirms that purposefully nurturing EI from an early age produces lasting dividends across all areas of life. It is one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children.

Through modeling emotional awareness themselves and implementing simple hands-on strategies, parents can unlock their child’s potential to understand and manage emotions constructively. Although an ongoing process, the long-term payoff for wholeheartedly embracing emotional intelligence is inarguable. Our children – and our society – will reap the benefits.

Additional Resources


What is emotional intelligence and why is it important for children?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to understand, express, and manage one’s emotions in a healthy way. Developing EI helps children identify their feelings, empathize with others, resolve conflicts, and make responsible decisions. It’s a key factor for success in school, relationships, and life.

How can parents promote emotional intelligence in their children?

Parents can promote EI by modeling emotional awareness themselves, coaching children through feelings using empathy and validation, practicing emotional vocabulary, reading books about emotions, problem solving together, and praising emotional growth and self-regulation.

What are some effective strategies for teaching empathy to kids?

To teach empathy, discuss characters’ feelings in stories, role play different perspectives, volunteer together, care for pets, point out the impact of kids’ actions on others, and reinforce kind, helpful behaviors.

Are there any recommended activities to enhance emotional intelligence in children?

Activities like identifying emotion through facial expressions, listening to music and discussing feelings evoked, keeping a gratitude journal, and family meetings to share weekly highs and lows can all boost EI.

How does nurturing emotional intelligence impact a child’s social development?

Children with higher EI are better able to form close friendships, resolve peer conflicts, cooperate in play, and stand up for themselves assertively. They have greater social confidence and relationship skills.

What role does open communication play in developing emotional intelligence?

Open, trusting communication allows children to freely share emotions and problems with parents, leading to greater self-awareness and emotional growth through guidance.

How can educators support the cultivation of emotional intelligence in schools?

Teachers can implement social-emotional learning curricula focused on self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and responsible decision-making to nurture EI competencies.

Are there any recommended books or resources for teaching emotional intelligence to children?

Excellent resources include Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, and the Making Caring Common project by Harvard Graduate School of Education.


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Gottman, J. M., Katz, L. F., & Hooven, C. (1997). Meta-emotion: How families communicate emotionally. Psychology Press.

Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to feel: Unlocking the power of emotions to help ourselves, our kids, and our society thrive. Celadon Books.

Katz, L. F., Maliken, A. C., & Stettler, N. M. (2012). Parental Meta-Emotion Philosophy: A Review of Research and Theoretical Framework. Child Development Perspectives, 6(4), 417–422.

Humphrey, N. (2013). Social and emotional learning: A critical appraisal. SAGE.