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How to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Children

Learn how to empower children through emotional intelligence.

How to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Children

How to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Children

A child’s emotional development is just as important as their physical development. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a critical component of having healthy emotions. It allows you to recognize and manage your feelings while relating to and understanding what others feel as well.

In this post, we’ll explore the basics of emotional intelligence in children. We’ll also provide tips and strategies for helping the children in your care develop their emotional intelligence. Whether you work with toddlers or school-age children, these insights will help create a supportive and nurturing environment that encourages emotional intelligence. 

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize, understand, and manage your emotions. It also includes identifying and responding appropriately to the feelings of others. Developing this skill as a child makes it easier to navigate social situations, build healthy relationships, and manage emotional reactions. 

Developing your emotional intelligence involves five primary factors:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to recognize and understand your own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors and understand how they affect others
  • Self-regulation: The ability to manage your own emotions and behaviors
  • Motivation: The ability to accomplish goals despite having negative or distracting feelings 
  • Empathy: The ability to understand and respond to the emotions of others
  • Social skills: The ability to effectively interact with others and use the appropriate behavior to receive a positive response

Overall, emotional intelligence is crucial to childhood emotional development. It’ll help children succeed in various areas, from social relationships to academic achievement. 

Why is emotional intelligence important?

Children with strong EQ will experience many benefits throughout their childhood and adult lives. 

Here are some of the advantages of having high emotional intelligence:

  • Building healthy relationships: Emotional intelligence allows children to build healthy relationships with others. Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills all play a role in how we build relationships. Developing emotional intelligence helps children prevent conflict, build trust, and experience positive social interactions. 
  • Managing emotions: Children experience many emotions daily. A high EQ allows them to manage their feelings and respond appropriately. Knowing how to cope with difficult moments can improve their overall mental health and well-being, helping them to be more resilient when facing challenges. 
  • Improving academics: School requires children to build and navigate relationships with their peers and teachers. While your preschoolers might not be in school yet, learning to work collaboratively with peers, navigate social situations, and communicate effectively with teachers can lead to improved academic performance and overall engagement. Children with higher emotional intelligence also pay attention better and are more engaged in school, leading to higher grades.

How to develop a child’s emotional intelligence

When developing a child’s EQ, there are various strategies you can utilize. 

  • Model healthy emotions: Positive adult interactions are one of the best ways to help children develop emotional self-regulation skills. Children learn a lot about behavior from adults, so watching you can help them make more emotionally healthy decisions and display appropriate emotional responses. 
  • Encourage emotional expression: Children need to know that it’s okay to have both positive and negative emotions. Encourage them to identify their feelings and express them to others. You can encourage them to do so through various activities, including drawing pictures or just talking to a trusted adult. Be sure to provide them with vocabulary that will help them describe what they’re feeling. 
  • Teach social skills: You can also explicitly teach critical social skills like active listening and conflict resolution. These are crucial to building positive relationships with peers and adults. 
  • Discuss others’ emotions: While it’s important for children to focus on their own emotions, it’s also important for them to acknowledge the feelings and perspectives of others. Doing so allows children to think about how their actions affect others and build empathy.
  • Offer positive reinforcement: Praising children for expressing their emotions in healthy and appropriate ways encourages them to continue demonstrating similar behaviors. You want them to learn that expressing different emotions is okay, but they must do so constructively.

Emotional intelligence activities for children

There are endless possibilities when developing emotional intelligence activities for children. Here are a few that you can practice and customize to fit the needs of your classroom. 


Roleplaying is one of the best ways for children to learn. Develop different scenarios children are likely to encounter. Some might only require one person, while others may need multiple participants to act them out. 

Some ideas for roleplaying scenarios include:

  • You loan your favorite pencil to a classmate, and they break it. 
  • Your mom picks you up from school, and you see something special in the backseat. It’s the puppy you’ve wanted for months.
  • You get to school late and only have 5 minutes to play during morning recess. You ask your teacher to stay outside longer, and she says no. 
  • Your parents told you they’d take you to the beach for your birthday. Your dad gets sick the night before, so you are not going to the beach. Now, you have to stay home on your birthday.

Afterward, the class can discuss the scenarios. Some discussion prompts include:

  • How did you feel when it happened?
  • Why did you react that way?
  • Is there anything different you could have done?
  • How did the other people involved in the situation feel?

Read books about emotional intelligence

Read-alouds are a great way to introduce and reinforce vocabulary related to emotions in an age-appropriate way. You can have your children identify the character’s feelings, discuss why they might feel that way, and offer ways they can respond appropriately. It’s also helpful to talk about inappropriate ways to react to what the character is feeling. 

Here are a few books you can consider for good EQ discussions.

  • Even Superheroes Have Bad Days by Shelly Becker
  • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
  • The Boy With Big, Big Feelings by Britney Winn Lee
  • Millie Fierce by Jane Manning
  • Angry Ninja by Mary Nhin 
  • When Worry Takes Hold by Liz Haske
  • Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller
  • A Little SPOT of Confidence: A Story About Believing in Yourself by Diane Alber

Share personal emotional experiences

Make a list of emotions you can feel and write each on an index card. Allow a child to pick a card from the list and share a time when they felt that way. If they can’t think of their own experience, they can share a time when a friend or family member felt that way. 

Journal feelings

Encourage the children to journal their feelings by drawing pictures to represent their emotions. You can set aside time to journal daily or weekly to allow your preschoolers to regularly address and identify their feelings.

There are various ways to communicate emotions through journaling, and modeling this for your class is a great way to help them understand. 

Act out different emotions

How you feel often shows on your face and in your body movements. You can call out an emotion and have the children act it out. How does your face look? How are you breathing? What is your body doing while experiencing the feeling? Allowing the children to act out the emotion with their entire body can help them identify the emotion when they see others experiencing something similar.

Final thoughts on emotional intelligence

Teaching children emotional intelligence is essential for their wellbeing and future success. By teaching them the skills to recognize, understand, express, and regulate emotions from an early age, you can help foster a healthier relationship with themselves and those around them. It not only helps ensure that our children are better equipped to handle life’s ups and downs but also sets them up for more successful futures in whatever field they choose. Emotional intelligence is a skill that all of us should strive to develop—for ourselves as well as our children. With the right guidance and support, it's something every child can learn!

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