Tips to Help Children Develop Emotional Intelligence Skills  for Mental Well-being and Resilience

Tips to Help Children Develop Emotional Intelligence Skills for Mental Well-being and Resilience

By Lisa Gruenloh, MPAP, CPC, Founder and President of Purpose Journey®

For children, mental health largely involves the development of emotional and social skills that directly impact their ability to cope with challenge, have healthy interactions with others and cultivate self-esteem. As adults, we each have an opportunity to consider how we can support the children in our lives and ensure a safe environment that fosters learning and growth.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a deeply researched set of social and emotional competencies that can provide a helpful framework for adults to support children in this way. While there are dozens of excellent strategies to cultivate Emotional Quotient (EQ), the following information can help get you started, organized in the four domains of EI popularized by psychologist and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

  1. Self-Awareness: Understanding emotions and cultivating a positive sense of self

Self-awareness refers to our ability to perceive and identify our emotions, understand our values and motivations, and accurately and honestly assess our strengths and weaknesses, including our impact on others. If you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot for a kid!”, you are correct. It is. Here are a few ideas to help children develop self-awareness in a way that also builds confidence and resilience.

Tip: Explore strengths, “weaknesses,” and feelings. Be on the lookout for what your children are doing “right” or what makes them unique as individuals. Acknowledge not only their talents and skills, but also their personality traits and character strengths. A fun way to do this and build their confidence is to ask them to teach you something they enjoy and are good at. On the flip side, helping children acknowledge mistakes and disappointments, when done with empathy and kindness, can also boost a child’s self-regard over the long term. Normalizing the idea that we all fail or fall short at times encourages self-acceptance and reduces perfectionist tendencies that can be counter-productive to a healthy achievement orientation and commitment to excellence. These interactions can also provide fertile ground for the exploration and processing of emotions that accompany life’s highs and lows – a key factor in becoming more resilient. Help them learn to become aware of and name their emotions – starting with the basics: mad, glad, sad, scared.

  1. Self-Management: Matching intention and impact

Self-management involves our ability to make more conscious choices about our behavior, even when (especially when) we are triggered by stress. Our hardwired “fight, flight, or freeze” responses can cause us to feel “hijacked” by intense emotions and act out impulsively (or not act when we should) in ways we might regret.  With EI, we can learn to become more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and automatic reactions and then choose deliberate responses that align with our values and how we want to show up.

Tip: Teach and discuss the “ripple effect.” Each of us creates a “ripple effect” and an impact on others with our words and actions. One of the most effective times to explore this idea with children is when they have been personally affected by someone else’s negative reactions. Reflect together about how it feels. Building on the character strengths you identified in the self-awareness work, invite the child to express the kind of impact they wish to have on others. Depending on their age, you can help them start making connections between their thoughts and feelings and their actions. Allow them to notice when they are not having the impact they want to have. What might they do differently with that knowledge? For young children, stick with simply helping them identify their feelings and practice techniques to calm their minds during intense moments. For example, this could include simple breathing techniques, physical activity, going outdoors, or engaging in a creative activity. There’s no one size fits all. Emotions can be overwhelming for all of us, especially children. Tailor these ideas in ways that are age- and situation-appropriate.

  1. Social Awareness: Put yourself in their little shoes

While self-awareness is about identifying our own emotions, social awareness relates to our capacity to empathize – to understand the feelings and perceptions of others and respond to them in appropriate and productive ways. Social awareness also involves a broader notion of organizational awareness, which is the skill to pick up on and relate to group or community level dynamics.

Tip: Demonstrate active listening and empathy. All of the EI skills are best taught through role modeling from adults. However, this is the one area where the learning must start with the child experiencing it from someone else. There is a natural power dynamic in the adult-child relationship and so often children feel talked to, not talked with—or told, not asked. Empathetic listening is one of the quickest ways to build trust when done consistently. Validate the child’s feelings and show compassion. You also teach empathy by demonstrating care and concern for others. Be mindful about showing kindness, patience, and understanding to others in the presence of children. You might also decide to take time as a family to learn about a community need and volunteer to serve others as a way of expanding their worldview and demonstrating empathy in action.

  1. Relationship Management: Putting all the skills together

Relationship management incorporates all of the other three domains to develop healthy interactions with others, leveraging effective communication and conflict management skills. It’s also about being able to inspire and influence others and to work collaboratively. The result of mastering this domain is authentic, meaningful, and trust-based relationships that have creative power and positive impact.

Tip: Practice healthy ways of resolving conflict. This is a great way to show how all the EI skills build on one another. To effectively resolve conflict, we must be aware of our feelings, values, and perspectives and those of others. We can use those skills to open dialogue that respectfully uncovers what the specific issue is – often an unmet need or hurt feelings. Use your empathy skills and emotional language to better understand. Suggest playing detective, getting curious, and exploring where there might be middle ground. Consider actions that one or more people involved might take. Examples might be asking for help, apologizing, compromising, discovering a new way of looking at the problem, or coming up with creative solutions. Ask what feels fair and kind. When you reach a resolution, recognize and celebrate the positive qualities and thoughtful ideas the child contributed to create a successful outcome.

Final Thoughts

The final tip is about YOU – your commitment to developing EI competencies so that you can model them effectively for the special children in your life, while reaping the benefits for yourself! EI is among the most in-demand competencies in the workplace today and can have a profoundly positive impact on every area of life. Consider how you can cultivate these skills in your work and life and take one step within the next week to implement your learnings.

Lisa Gruenloh is an International Coaching Federation (ICF)-certified executive and emotional intelligence coach and purpose-driven entrepreneur. She’s Founder and President of Purpose Journey®, a consulting, training and coaching company that helps individuals and organizations harness their unique values, strengths and purpose with bold action to optimize their well-being and impact. Learn more at and .

Jul 29, 2022 | Blog, Mental Health

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