If you have a toddler, then you probably find that you’re teaching them about emotions and feelings every day. You might also be discovering that this task is daunting, to say the least. I sometimes let my emotions get the better of me as I argue with my toddler son about making his bed. However, I’ve started using a few exercises to help boost emotional intelligence in my household. The exercises are outlined below, followed by acts that toddlers (and adults) can do to increase their emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence Exercises for the Household
Emotions are natural responses to any given situation, and while I can easily identify the emotion I’m feeling at the moment, my son finds that task more difficult. When I offer a menu of emotions that he might be feeling (besides “angry” and “upset”), he can more accurately identify which emotion he’s experiencing.
When the boy he’s playing with takes his ball, he might feel confused, hurt, sad, puzzled, strange, weird, pickled, or frustrated. He may feel tired, hungry, sad, private, wiggly, or unsure when he says he doesn’t want to go to school. There are so many emotions that he might be experiencing that I can name, and such a list lets him know that his feelings are normal.
One great way to distract him from his zealous ego is to ask if he is feeling a certain color. I can inquire, “Are you feeling blue, red, or camel color?” Sometimes, he can more easily identify a color for how he’s feeling, rather than a word. Throwing in a few colors also gets his preschool brain working differently and helps him think.
Expressing his emotion as a metaphor is another way to help toddlers learn about their feelings. When my son gets really mad, I exclaim, “Wow, you’re a volcano right now! Boom!” I’ve also called my son “My little velociraptor” when he makes my not-so-favorite, screechy whining noises. The act of verbalizing his emotions as a metaphor works wonders. It usually sparks a conversation about animals and/or nature, which is a really effective way to simmer a potential eruption.
Are They Happy?
My son loves to ask when looking at someone, “Are they happy?” How to decipher someone’s emotional state can be a really educational activity. Faces are all around us, and it’s important to know how to identify someone’s emotional state by their facial expressions.
I explain to my son that people don’t always show their happiness with a smile. A pumped fist can be a sign of happiness, as can running in circles and yelling loudly. I remind him that happiness is a feeling within, and how it’s expressed depends upon the person and the situation.
Acts of Emotional Intelligence
As my little guy learns about his emotions (and I continue to learn how to teach him about them), he can also build healthy relationships. The following acts of emotional intelligence help facilitate this:
- Ask for help with a please and a thank you. We all need other people to help us periodically, and both phrases help to acknowledge the person who is helping.
- Offer a hug or say hello to a friend. A big squeeze or saying “Hi!” fosters a personal connection and helps to build the relationship.
- If a mistake is made, then say, “I’m sorry.” Saying sorry teaches one to take responsibility for their actions, as well as acknowledging that their actions may have hurt someone.
- Share or take turns. In all relationships, there is a natural give-and-take. Sharing implies a mutual connection between two people.
- Cry when you need to. Crying is a natural response to being sad, hurt, upset, or frustrated. It’s ok for everyone to express their emotions, especially when they’re feeling sad or hurt.
- Use your words to resolve a conflict. Words are extremely powerful – they can both cause and resolve conflict with another person. The more you can use his words to express his feelings, the better prepared you will be to form healthy, lasting relationships.
With Gusto and Glee
When I check in with my son about his emotions, it’s also a cue for me to check in with my own emotions. If I focus on my emotional intelligence, then he will focus on his as well. In turn, he will learn about kindness, compassion, and respect. It may be hard work, but I know that children will have greater success at school, at home, and with relationships if they pursue emotional intelligence with gusto and glee.