Emotional intelligence (EI) is an important concept that didn't capture much attention until recent decades. In fact, if we recall our own childhoods, it's likely the concept of EI wasn't introduced until we'd outgrown our younger years. EI has gained more attention in light of research conducted by various psychologists over the years. Just as we measure our intellect with an IQ score, we can also measure our EI with an EQ (emotional quotient) score. A recent study found that a person's level of career success is 58% dependent on EQ. In fact, beyond a certain level of intelligence, a person’s EQ can determine whether or not they will thrive, and is an imperative component of success. While anyone is capable of increasing their EQ at any stage of life, the lessons needed to develop a higher EQ are easiest and most beneficial when learned as children.
If you’d like to help a child in your life increase their EQ, that’s great! There are many wonderful ways to do this. In an effort to help facilitate such learning and growth, lessons that teach children about their moods are essential. Unlike the IQ, a person's EQ can be increased over time, and there are a variety of useful interventions to help children become more aware and in control of their feelings and choices. One great place to start on this educational journey is by teaching kids about the six primary emotions, how to identify them, as well as healthy ways to hold space for them.
Primary emotions were first identified in the 1970s by psychologist Paul Ekman. He classified six major emotions that are easy to express/detect via facial expressions. While the list of emotions and moods we experience is extensive, these are the most basic—offering a great place to start when teaching children how to identify their feelings and express them in healthy ways. The six primary emotions identified by Ekman are:
After a child becomes well-versed in the primary emotions, a more extensive list can be taught. Once a child learns about the full spectrum of emotions, learning how to identify each emotion, detect emotions in others, and successfully express each emotion is the next challenge.
When helping to increase a child’s EQ, it helps to instill the names of the emotions that are felt or expressed throughout the day to the child in real-time. Whether he/she feels upset or happy, it helps to identify each emotion with words—stating its name and describing the verbal and non-verbal cues being presented. It’s also helpful to explore or state why the child may be feeling this way. For example, say, “You're feeling happy right now because you get to play outside with your friends. Your mouth is smiling, your feet are tapping, your voice sounds upbeat, and your eyes are opened wide.”
Additional tips for increasing a child's EQ include using an emotions list containing various emotions and moods. This helps children learn the names of each emotion, and also to identify what they’re feeling in the moment. It's also helpful to act out each emotion, use role-playing exercises, and present visual tools such as videos, games, and books. Another great way to teach children to identify and express emotions and moods is by using a mood band. Mood bands come in all sorts of colors and are fun to wear. Each band states a different mood a child can wear to express how he or she is feeling each day or even each moment. When a child puts a mood band on, it provides a wonderful opportunity for exploring each emotion or mood, examining why the child feels as he/she does, and learning healthy methods for expression and management.
Jayna Nickert, MBA, MFT
Jayna is a writer, integrative therapist, and entrepreneur residing in San Diego, CA. When she isn't writing or playing with her dogs at the beach, she enjoys helping children and adolescents. As a therapist in a prep school setting, she's equipped junior high and high school students with the tools needed to process and manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bereavement, and trauma.
One of my cherished memories from growing up is about family stories. Each summer my parents would rent a lake house and relatives would visit in a bit of a revolving-door style. Eventually, they would all have made a visit, often extended over several weeks. In the evenings we would sit around in the living room or outside around a campfire, and the stories would begin to flow.