With the current election, we have all felt intense feelings. This article highlights the importance of acknowledging our own feelings as well as provides some steps to take with young children to help them understand and cope with their emotions.
When emotions run high, people do and say things they normally would not. This is what it feels likes to be a young child all the time. Emotional self-regulation, a large component of emotional intelligence, is the ability to manage one’s experience and expression of emotions. With practice, children improve in their abilities for emotional self-regulation. By age 4, most children start to use strategies to eliminate disturbing external stimuli. In other words, they cover their eyes when they are scared and plug their ears when they hear a loud noise.
It’s not until age 10 that children consistently use more complex strategies for emotional self-regulation. These strategies can be broken down into two simplistic categories: those that attempt to solve the problem and those that attempt to tolerate the emotion. When a child can make a change to address a problem, they engage in problem-focused coping by identifying the trouble and making a plan for dealing with it. When they deem the problem is not solvable, they engage in emotion-focused coping by working to tolerate and control distress.
All of these strategies are a part of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence encompasses awareness, understanding and the ability to express and manage one’s emotions.
Self-control, one piece of emotional intelligence, is particularly important in predicting achievement in children. Children who are able to inhibit impulses (often driven by emotions) and avoid distractions are able to engage in more prosocial behaviors and accomplish their goals. A particularly powerful study tested school-aged children on self-control and conducted follow-up studies on those children in their 30’s. The study demonstrated that self-control predicted success better than IQ, socioeconomic status and family environment. Those children high in self-control were also healthier, made more money and were less likely to have criminal records or trouble with alcohol.
Feelings Serve a Purpose
The first piece of emotional intelligence is awareness and understanding of emotions. We have to understand and accept before we can control and express our emotions. Emotions are not an inconvenience, but rather a piece of human evolution that serves a purpose. The discrete theory of emotions suggests that each of our primary emotions have evolved to serve distinct purposes and motivate our behavior.
Sadness is an emotion uniquely capable of slowing us down, both in thought and motor activity. This can allow us the opportunity to reflect on the source of our emotional upset and take a closer look at the antecedents of it. In contrast, anger speeds us up, mobilizing intense energy and sending blood to our extremities. While evolutionary, this geared us up for a fight; in modern times, it allows the sustained energy for a fight of a different nature. Anger cues us that our rights have been violated and helps us mobilize to protect against future threats.