Introducing emotional intelligence to your toddler – 3 easy ways to get started
Our feelings are big things. This is a concept that is easily forgotten when dealing with a toddler having a very public meltdown. I struggle with my emotions, even after over 30 years of working with them, so I can’t even imagine what my little girl is going through. I’ve seen her burst into tears when a friend was just a little abrupt with her (something I’ve often wanted to do myself in the same situation)! Luckily, I’ve had a bit of time to practice my reactions where my toddler, who often can’t even name her feelings, has not.
Will she learn emotions anyway, even if we don’t take the time to sit down and teach her? Yes. But learning emotions is the first step to mastering self-regulation and will go a long way to avoid dramatic outbursts such as tantrums or crying-fits. It sets the foundation for emotional intelligence, from which they will reap the benefits all their lives. And it’s not all that difficult!
Did you know that you can start with your infant? We all know that we should talk to our little babies, even when they can’t understand a word. When your baby looks at you and smiles, say something like, ‘Oh you are so happy’. When he/she cries, use the word ‘sad’ or ‘upset’. Let them start to hear the name of the emotion which they are feeling and continue to do so as they grow so that your toddler is familiar with the terms from the get-go.
With your toddler, naming their emotions is an absolute must! Again, when they smile or laugh, let them know it’s because they are feeling happy. When they cry, point out that they are feeling sad, hurt, or worried. You can even use the word ‘emotional’ so that they understand it is this which is causing the tears. And don’t shy away from the emotions like anger or frustration, it is super important that they can differentiate between more than just happy and sad.
Make emotional awareness training intentional and something that happens daily through words and actions. And then use games and activities to really drive the idea home. Here are a couple ways you can engage your toddler and get them familiar with their emotions:
I believe empathy is a muscle which can be strengthened and maintained. If you don’t point out to a toddler that other people have emotions too, how will they know? Emotion Charades is a great way to introduce to your child that people will express their emotions using their facial features, so he/she should be sensitive to that.
Sit facing each other and then pull a dramatic face showing a chosen emotion (a big smile for happy, an exaggerated scowl for anger) and have your toddler guess what emotion you are feeling. If they struggle in the beginning, add some sounds like a laugh or a grunt, to go with the feeling. Make use of the inflections in your voice to exaggerate the emotion as well, for example say ‘I am soooo saaaaadddd’ slow and low, or ‘yay I am happy!’ with a loud, joyful voice.
Since toddlers are new to emotions, it works better to exaggerate the facial features to make it easier for them to differentiate between the emotions. As they get better at noticing more subtle signs, you will be able to do less exaggerated motions, but don’t expect this for a long time!
You can do these a few different ways. I love the idea of using pictures of the child themselves, pulling different faces. Print them out into little squares and laminate them and then use them like flash cards so your child can name the emotions they see on their own face. You can do the same with pictures out of magazines, or printed images. I find that pictures of real people work much better, as cartoon images can be a bit ambiguous.
Emotional activity matching games
Have a look at our free printable for ideas on this one. HERE Basically, each emotion will go with a few scenarios which would elicit said emotion. Have a few half pages with a different emotion on (a happy face, sad face, angry face etc). Then cut out pictures of different scenarios such as a child playing with a ball, being ignored, or a broken toy. They need to match which emotion the scenario would make them feel. Since no child is the same, this activity should be a lot of fun. Take the time to explain each scenario to your child and let them really think about how they would feel.
I like to use activities like this one to develop empathy in my daughter. So, I won’t always use her as the focus point, but instead I would say ‘Your friend’s toy broke, oh no! How do you think that would make her feel?’ and for a bonus I would ask ‘what do you think you could do to make her feel better?’
Open up a dialogue with your toddler, and keep it going. Use every opportunity available to address their emotions or the emotions of those around them. Be sure to let your little one feel their emotions, we have to be so careful not to dismiss what they are feeling or teach them to bottle things up. And remember that sometimes all they need is a good cuddle.
All my love,