Humans grow and develop quickly, both physically and emotionally, throughout childhood and adolescence. In addition to physical changes, children are also developing at a rapid pace emotionally, intellectually, and socially. Helping your child develop their emotional intelligence can provide them with skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. 

Magination Press book, A Box of Butterflies, by Jo Rooks, explores emotions and the situations that may cause them. Psychologist Elizabeth McCallum, PhD, provides a Note to Parents and Caregivers in the book, exploring the whys and hows of supporting emotional development.

Why support emotional skill development?

Research on emotional development has shown a correlation between certain skills and positive outcomes such as strong relationships, high-self esteem, and overall happiness. Some of these skills are self-regulation, emotional self-awareness, and the ability to identify emotions in others.

  • Self-Regulation: the ability to monitor and manage one’s own emotional state and behavior. 
  • Emotional Self-awareness: the ability to understand one’s own emotions and how they impact one’s behavior. This knowledge allows people to reliably predict how they will respond to certain environmental circumstances.
  • Identifying Emotions in Others: this skill has been linked to success in social relationships, academics, and the workforce. Individuals with this ability tend to be more empathetic.

How to support emotional skill development

Each child develops their emotional skills differently. Some may have strong emotional skills fairly young and others make take longer to develop. Other factors like individual temperament and cultural differences can also impact development. Regardless of the developmental level of a child’s emotional skills, parents and caregivers can support a child’s emotional skill development using these evidence-based strategies.

Learn to Recognize Your Child’s Emotional Responses

Some of your child’s emotions may be easier to recognize than others. Joy or anger may be more obvious than shame, guilt, or embarrassment. Particularly when your child’s emotions are hidden, it is especially important to pay attention to their words, body language, and behavior as they may provide clues as to how your child is feeling.

Help Your Child Learn to Identify Their Own Emotional Responses

When your child  seems to be feeling a particular emotion, help them label that emotion and discuss the possible events that may have contributed to that feeling. This will help them learn to predict the types of situations and events that are linked to certain emotional reactions in themselves. 

Help Your Child Develop Empathy

You can promote empathy by talking to your child about how others in distress (in real life, in books, on TV, etc.) may be feeling. Another way to encourage empathy is to help children see what they have in common with others. Meeting and learning about people from diverse backgrounds has been shown to increase empathy and overall emotional skills.

Model Appropriate Emotional Skills

Demonstrate appropriate emotional skills and discuss how you manage your emotions even when it is difficult. For example, when someone cuts in front of you and your child in line at the grocery store, take a moment to discuss the importance of keeping calm in a frustrating situation.

Emotional development is a process that begins in infancy and continues into adulthood. Parents and caregivers can help children develop a variety of strategies that can help them become emotionally skilled individuals who are able to self-regulate and manage their own emotions. While individual children develop at different rates, most children’s emotional skills fall within a range of typical development. However, if you have concerns about your child’s emotional development, you should discuss these concerns with your pediatrician or a mental health professional.

This is an exclusive excerpt from the Note to Parents and Caregivers by Elizabeth McCallum PhD., in Magination Press book, A Box of Butterflies, by Jo Rooks.

by Elizabeth McCallum, PhD.

This Article's Author

Elizabeth McCallum, PhD. is an associate professor in the school of psychology program at Duquesne University, as well as a Pennsylvania certified school psychologist. She is the author of many scholarly articles and book chapters on topics including academic and behavioral interventions for children and adolescents.

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