How to Nurture Young Minds: Easy Tips for Teaching Children Emotional Intelligence
Monday, July 17, 2023, was World Emoji Day. When I saw it on my calendar, I thought how silly. Then I started thinking about how much kids love emojis and how they are a massive part of our culture and daily communication today. Young children have big emotions to work through, and emojis can be a fun way to help them navigate their feelings and the different emotions of others. Then my head was swarming with fun ideas of teaching children about emotions. It doesn't have to be dull or daunting for parents. Teaching emotions to children can be an exciting and enjoyable experience for all.
This blog will explore how incorporating these seven things: emojis, facial expressions, children's books, real-life scenarios, emotional regulation techniques, crafts, and games, can create a fun and interactive learning environment for children to explore their emotions.
This blog does contain affiliate links for your convenience. I do make a small commission from any purchases made.
But First, Why is a Child's Emotional Intelligence Important?
As a reading specialist and confidence coach for kids, I believe a child's emotional intelligence is paramount for children's development, well-being, and overall success. Emotional intelligence enables children to understand and manage emotions in appropriate ways. They will have better social skills and build meaningful and positive relationships if they learn to manage their feelings. Robust emotional health allows children to identify and express emotions, develop empathy toward others, and make good decisions. Additionally, emotional intelligence strengthens resilience and self-confidence and creates positive outcomes in a child's life because healthy coping mechanisms allow children to handle conflicts, challenges, and setbacks in a positive and beneficial manner. For example, learning to read can be frustrating and challenging, leaving my students with intense emotions. I have noticed over the years that children with more substantial emotional intelligence and a positive outlook have an easier time learning to read and overcoming the hurdles and obstacles standing in their way.
On the contrary, if they let their negative feelings get the best of them, they have a hard time, and this can lead to destructive behavior in the classroom and an aversion to reading because they are embarrassed, ashamed, or have low-self esteem. We must avoid the latter because emotional intelligence lays the foundation for lifelong mental health, promotes self-awareness, and allows children to manage their emotions healthily. By supporting a child's emotional development, we will enable them to lead prosperous lives and positively impact the world.
Seven Fun Ways You Can Build Your Child's Emotional Skills
1. Use Emojis
Emojis are a great way to introduce and discuss basic emotions with children. They are hip and relevant to communication today. What kid doesn't love playing on a phone or using emojis? You can use emoji flashcards to help your child to identify different emotions and match the emojis with the corresponding emotions. Be sure to encourage your child to express and share personal experiences related to each emotion. For a set of free printable emotions cards, click the button below:
Or you can purchase a set like the one below.
Emoji Cards: These are fun because you can play with a small group and get the whole family involved! They have pictures on the front and emotions written on the back. There are lots of opportunities to have fun and play with this set!
2. Facial Expressions
Children learn a lot about emotions by observing different situations and imitating facial expressions. One way to help them learn how to gauge people's feelings and emotions is to play "Guess the Emotion," where one person demonstrates an emotion through facial expressions or emotion picture cards (like the products linked below) while others guess the specific emotion. Then rotate roles and take turns. It's a simple yet exciting way to get a feel for various emotions. I have also seen people have children practice their feelings in front of a mirror to see the difference in body language and expression right before their eyes.
Emotions and Feelings: Spark Matching Cards: This fantastic set of emotion cards shows many facial expressions. They can be used as flashcards or as a matching game.
3. Children's Books
Children learn so much through reading about different scenarios. Books allow children to pick up on the characters' emotions, empathize, and make personal connections to the stories. Picture books can be helpful for young kids to see others' emotions and help develop their language skills. Books will help them build their emotional vocabulary and learn positive ways to navigate difficult emotions. See my list below for help choosing children's books about teaching feelings and emotions. Be sure to pause at different times throughout the story to discuss any teachable moments and or the particular emotion portrayed by the characters as you go. Ask your child questions like, "How do you think the character feels right now? How do you know?" Asking such questions encourages children to empathize and relate to the characters' emotional reactions and experiences.
Some of my favorite books for teaching children about emotions are as follows:
The Feelings Book: The author Todd Parr is known for his bright, bold illustrations and fun children's books. It's geared more toward younger children preschool age and up. This book covers many motions and teaches young children to identify their wants and needs.
The Way I Feel: Janan Cain skillfully writes this book for kids to grasp in early childhood. This book is excellent for ages 3-7. It gives them the vocabulary to express their feelings and learn through detailed and colorful illustrations. It also gives caregivers many opportunities to open up the conversation about emotion and get the ball rolling!
Breathing is My Superpower: This is book number two in a mindset book series written for kids by Alicia Ortego. It's an excellent book for teaching children how to deal with situations using mindfulness and breathing techniques!
Happy: A Beginner's Book of Mindfulness: This sweet book has beautiful illustrations. It's an excellent book for introducing mindfulness to children.
The Emotions Book: A Little Story About Big Emotions: This adorable story is about an elephant that gently teaches children how to self-regulate their emotions. The book teaches children that when they have feelings, like sad feelings or other big emotions, it just means that they may need to slow down to take some deep breaths or receive a hug.
A Little Spot of Feelings Box Set: This set contains books covering kids' emotions and life skills. They are great for preschool-age kids through older kids around eight. The box set includes the following:
A Little SPOT of Empathy
A Little SPOT of Frustration
A Little Calm SPOT
A Little SPOT of Worry
A Little SPOT of Belonging
A Little SPOT of Flexible Thinking
A Little SPOT of Boredom
A Little SPOT of Feelings: Emotion Detective
**You can also purchase The Little Spot of Emotion plush toys to accompany the books, including an emotional poster for kids. Each plush toy represents a different emotion and is a different color. It's a great way to role-play or use their new set of skills from the book through imaginative play! The books are great at breaking down emotions and body language and are helpful tools for children. They also include tips for parents and the language you can use with your kids too!
4. Real-Life Scenarios
Role-playing scenarios can be a great way to allow children to express their feelings, discuss good behavior and inappropriate behavior, and get a lot of practice with social emotional learning. To practice emotional experiences, you can role-play a social interaction like sharing a toy, resolving a conflict, or something as simple as receiving a gift. Prompt your child to express their emotions and explore different ways to respond and manage them healthily. Role-playing can be effective for learning body language, emotional vocabulary words, feelings of others, and how to express their own emotions.
One of the better ways to practice real-life scenarios is through puppet play, and your child will have the best time doing it!
Linked below is a set of hand puppets great for working on emotions! OR you can use craft sticks or brown paper bags and help your child create their own. Be sure to have a good time with it and make it fun!
5. Emotional Regulation Techniques
It's important to teach children healthy ways to regulate their emotions, such as taking deep breaths, counting to ten, or taking a break in a quiet space. Next time big feelings come up, try some of the techniques below and reinforce their benefits during temper tantrums or heightened or strong emotions arise.
Teach Emotional Awareness: Encourage your child to identify and express their emotions with you. Teaching them to recognize the behavioral cues and physical sensations that accompany a wide range of emotions will benefit them greatly. Talk to them about their feelings and how to express their emotions to handle a given situation.
Model Emotional Regulation: Children learn by observing others. Demonstrate healthy emotional regulation by managing your different feelings and emotions effectively. Model how to express emotions constructively, such as using positive self-talk, breathing deeply, or other calming activities.
Breathing Exercises: You can teach your child simple breathing exercises like deep belly breathing or square breathing (see the additional YouTube video below for another kid-friendly breathing exercise!). These breathing techniques calm the nervous system, reduce stress, and promote positive emotional regulation.
Make Time for Mindfulness and Meditation: Make time in your child's schedule for mindfulness and meditation practices. Teach them to be present, observe their emotions and thoughts without judgment, and have self-compassion. Mindfulness activities like the ones below can enhance self-awareness and boost emotional regulation.
Create a Safe and Supportive Environment: Establish an environment where children feel safe to express their emotions without fear of judgment or punishment. Encourage open communication, active listening, and empathy. This supportive atmosphere fosters trust and allows children to seek help when needed.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Encourage your child to participate in healthy activities beneficial to their emotional well-being. These activities include physical exercise, creativity (art, writing, music), journaling, getting out in nature, or spending time on hobbies they love. These activities can serve as positive outlets for emotional expression and help regulate emotions.
Provide Routines and Predictability: Kids thrive in consistent and predictable environments because it makes them feel safe and stable. Establishing regular routines for daily activities and transitions can also help reduce anxiety, provide a sense of control, and support emotional regulation.
Encourage Self-Care: Teaching children about self-care and its importance is vital. Help your child realize the importance of eating healthy, getting enough sleep, spending time with friends and family, and doing fun activities that support emotional regulation (activities that nurture both physical and mental health).
Teach Coping Strategies: Introduce your child to various coping strategies, such as journaling, talking it out with a trusted adult, drawing, or utilizing positive affirmations. Help them determine which strategies work best and encourage them to use them during challenging moments when your child feels big emotions.
Crafts are a really fun and engaging way to get kids to discuss emotions with you. There are endless ways you can engage your little ones in crafts to discuss their feelings and emotions. Get creative and have fun with it. Make faces with Play-Doh, and draw faces on balloons. The possibilities are endless! But if you need some ideas, I have linked a couple of fun crafts below!
Games are such a fun way for children to learn and have fun! I have listed some products below that make learning about emotions fun and exciting for all! But before we dive in, I wanted to mention another great resource, PBS Kids. Here you can find activities that help you explore your child's feelings, Tv shows, recipes, crafts, resources for parents, and more!
In conclusion, navigating your child's emotions with them doesn't have to be daunting. I hope you found some valuable tips and products that can help you and your child easily handle their big emotions. It's a vital skill, as emotions are a part of life's journey. However, they must learn to manage and navigate them in a healthy to become successful, happy individuals. Through things like open communication, observing adults, and partaking in creative activities and games such as puppet play, we can help kids build empathy toward others and a strong emotional vocabulary. That way, when challenges arise, they have the tools and coping skills to overcome whatever is thrown their way!
About the Author
Janay Neufeld is an online reading specialist and confidence coach for kids. Her unique approach can help children worldwide increase their confidence and reading skills with positive mindset training, helping them reach their full potential!
She has ten years of experience helping children feel like skilled, confident readers. She has her multiple-subject teaching credential, Orton Gillingham trained through the Institute for Multisensory Education, and she has a Master of Arts in Education. She is also certified as a life coach for kids through Adventures in Wisdom.
Does your child need help with reading and or having a positive mindset? You can click either button below to sign up for a FREE Reading Assessment, or if you think your child could benefit from confidence coaching through positive mindset work, click the second button to book a Free Discovery Call today!