Many benefits are associated with helping kids foster their emotional intelligence. When your kid has learnt to identify and manage his emotions, he is more likely to better deal with difficult emotion-provoking situations in the childhood years and beyond. Research suggests that much is to be gained by teaching kids to manage their emotions from the earliest age. In other words, problem behavior can often be explained by your kid’s inability to manage his or her emotions. If the emotions your little one experiences are too big, her inability to manage them may be manifested in behavior such as clinginess, tantrums, meltdowns, extreme shyness or even aggressiveness.
We now know that talking to kids about emotions using age-appropriate strategies is the first step in helping them foster their emotional intelligence. Evidence suggests that from around age three, kids can be taught to become more aware of their emotions and the emotions of others. But is it possible to help infants and toddlers develop their emotional intelligence? In other words, when your kid is too young to understand why it is important to name emotions, what other strategies can help him start working on his emotional intelligence? Here are a few tips to help you foster your kid’s emotional intelligence right from birth.
1. Do not underestimate the remarkable power of touch.
There is strong evidence that touch heals. One long-term study analyzed the impact of touch on premature babies. In a follow up study when the babies were older, the researchers found that those who had been held longer and more often had greater physiological and neurological development, fewer anxiety-related issues, and greater ties with their parents.
Following these and other studies, several hospitals have now adopted “kangaroo care” for both premature and full-term infants. Kangaroo care means holding a kid wearing only a diaper against one’s bare chest.
According to David Linden, the neuroscientist and author of the book Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind, appropriate touch strengthens bonds by building trust and cooperation. Moreover, a special bond is developed in the first four to six months. There have also been suggestions that babies touched often display less aggressive behavior.
What you can do:
- Hold, caress and cuddle your baby as often as you can. Snuggle with him at naptime.
- Practice baby wearing if you can.
2. Practice responsive parenting
There is ample evidence that even the youngest kids experience distress and adapt their behavior to reduce this distress. For instance, thumb-sucking is proof that infants are capable of adopting self-soothing behavior to deal with unpleasant stimuli.
Some studies have found that toddlers are capable of adapting their behavior depending on the emotional impact of a situation. In other words, even young kids are capable of knowing they should approach or avoid certain situations. However, infants look up to their parents to deal with distressing situations. In a recent study, Professor Darcia Narvaez and colleagues suggest that leaving kids in distress by letting them cry can be detrimental to their development. According to these researchers, letting your baby cry can trigger stress and is bound to have an impact on how he manages stress, anxiety and other difficult emotions in adulthood.
What you can do:
- Be conscious of the difference between fussing and genuine distress and respond to your kid’s distress.
- The appropriate response to your infant’s distress is not always what you think it is. Find what works best to calm your kid down. According to a recent study, recordings of play songs are more effective than lullabies or even maternal speech at reducing distress and calming highly aroused infants (under one-year-olds).
3. Develop an emotionally-safe relationship.
Although the concept of emotional safety is often used when referring to couples, it is a concept that is also valid when referring to parent-child relationships. There is solid evidence that the innate need for safety is pre-wired into our brains and that feeling emotionally unsafe can send our nervous systems into a state of defense.
An emotionally-safe relationship is one in which there is a solid attachment. We now know that a baby’s attachment to his/her parents (primary caregiver) has a great impact on social and emotional outcomes in later years.
What you can do:
Developing a solid attachment is not about privileging one parenting style (for instance attachment parenting) over another. Regardless of your parenting style, you can develop a solid attachment with your kid. Developing a solid attachment is about being sensitive to your baby’s needs and being capable of reassuring her. Responding to your baby with kindness and making an effort to minimize her distress sets the stage for emotional intelligence. Indeed, there is evidence that feeling safe is a first step that makes it easier for kids to develop appropriate emotion regulation skills to deal with the difficult situations they encounter.