Building Emotional Intelligence

Early childhood is a time of life that challenges both developmental psychologists and parents with its fascinating mixture of change, growth, joy, and frustration. Between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, babyhood is left behind and a verbal, relatively competent preschooler emerges. Before long, those preschoolers are moving from wiggleworms who share every idea that pops into their heads to sweet school kids learning to follow school rules, make friends, and steal your heart.  During these transition, the changes in the physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and communication skills can be amazing and, at times, overwhelming!

Early childhood has gained a reputation as being a difficult period of tremendous energy and great capacity for movement and activity in the child, while at the same time it is the period when children are just beginning to acquire the rudiments of self-control and to accept the need for limits. One of the most rewarding challenges for parents is selecting activities that introduce new learning experiences without overwhelming the child’s capacity
for change. This is particularly important because successful activities, like the ones presented in Kindermusik, support and strengthen the parent-child relationship, while activities that are developmentally inappropriate can stress it further.

Knowledge of some of the key emotional tasks of the early childhood years can help reduce frustration and increase the joy!

The Quest for Control
The issue of developing control (over body functions, physical activities, feelings, or the world around him) is crucial for a child. A balance between structure and unnecessary regimentation is important.  Children do best when they are invited and attracted into activities, rather than required to participate in them.  Kindermusik invites children to participate in activities, but there are no performance expectations.

At Home

  • Instead of trying to force your child into playing a game or reading a book, start playing or reading it by yourself. Your enthusiasm will most likely draw your child into the activity.
  • Give your child lots of choices throughout the day both to allow her to have some control and develop those all important reasoning centers of the brain.  Let her choose this shirt or that one.  Help her pick the  red car or the blue one.  Slide or swings.  There are plenty of opportunities for appropriate choices.

Hold Me and Let Me Go
A major task for young children is resolving the conflict between desire for love and protection and the urge to become independent. The mantra for many  is “by myself”.  Yet, when the going gets tough, the tough get going right back to Mom’s or Dad’s lap.  Some call this the “rubber band” stage because it seems like the child is pulling outward and then snapping back. Giving your child permission to retreat to safety in your arms allows him to naturally move to greater independence.

At Home

  • For “Our Time” kids: Recite “Run and Jump” (Home Activity Book, p. 33) while your child jumps into your arms. This allows your child the opportunity to practice and master the skills of running and jumping and has meaningful emotional content. Knowing that her caregiver will catch her when she jumps represents a level of emotional security in the relationship.
  • For “Imagine That!” kids: take a pretend boat ride with your child on your knees or lap.  Let a storm attack your boat rocking it from side to side until you “crash”.  While at first it may seem scary, making it through the tumultuous ride with you builds trust in your relationship while reassuring your child that even stormy seas can be made less scary when shared with a friend or grown-up.
  • Some children require a little extra gentle push to be independent.  Encourage your child to try new things on his own or to go exploring without you holding his hand.  Studies show that parents of more reserved children who gently encourage their children to step out and try things on their own can indeed help their children build more outgoing temperaments.  However, don’t force the issue, and do stay close by in case they decide they need you.

Control of emotions is one of the most complex challenges facing young children and their parents. Children vary greatly in the intensity of how they experience and express feelings, depending on inborn temperamental factors, but it is a rare toddler whose feelings do not become intense and overwhelming at times. By providing both limits and loving support to your child, you are helping her gradually learn ways of handling and modulating her feelings so that the tantrums of the toddler ideally give way to the emphatic verbal argument of the school-aged child.

Music, as a fundamental route for the expression of human emotion, is an excellent tool for helping learn to identify and channel emotions. Even very young children can identify music that makes them happy or sad.  Musical expression of wide ranges of emotion can help make them more manageable, less overwhelming, and much more understandable.

At Home

  • Use emotion words to help your child learn to identify and later label how she is feeling.  One child psychologist has been known to say “An emotion named is an emotion tamed.”  Describe to your child how she looks when she is sad or angry or happy, so she can connect the way her body feels with the emotion itself.
  • Remember that emotions in and of themselves are not good or bad.  It’s our expression of them that is deemed appropriate or inappropriate by society.
  • Help your child learn appropriate ways to deal with strong emotions such as taking a deep breath, counting, going to a quiet place to calm down, drawing, snuggling a stuffed animal, finding something else to do that will help them feel better, or even as they get older talking about their emotions.

The more you help your child build emotional intelligence, the more successful he will be in life.  Our ability to read, understand, and express emotions in healthy ways as well as our emotional security affect everything we do and color our ability to interact with others every moment of our lives.  But the good news is, building emotional intelligence can be both easy and fun, and it all starts with the simple love between parent and child.

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