Building emotional intelligence in your child is, well, child's PLAY.
If you want your child to start recognizing and understanding their emotions, you need to take the time to PLAY with them. Yes, I mean physical play too, but this post is about emotional P-L-A-Y. So what is PLAY anyway? PLAY is an amazing system I designed to help parents navigate through the tough, emotional conversations. It stands for Pay Attention, Listen, Accept, and Yield/Youth.
Your child will give you cues and clues about how they are feeling. Paying attention is the first step to opening the door of discussion into your child's emotions. When you pay attention, you are being present with your child. They will feel it and they will appreciate it (even if they don't act like it). I'm not talking about being overbearing or a helicopter parent (ain't no one got time for that). Simply stop what you're doing for a moment or two when your child enters the room and notice how they look, how they carry themselves, how they interact with you or others. When you have an opening, ask them meaningful questions like, "I know your big book report was due today, how did you feel when you turned it in?" Or even, "I see you're looking a little happier/sadder than usual, I'd love to hear about what's going on." The more specific the better. Then prepare yourself for the next step - Listen.
After asking your child specific questions about their day, such as, "How did you feel when you gave your book report in front of your class?" or "How did you feel when you weren't invited to the party?" or "How did you feel when you shared your toy with your brother?" You need to take time to lovingly listen. This is not your time to talk. This is your child's time to talk and your time to listen. Your child may not know how to verbalize their emotions yet. Language processing comes from the left side of the brain, which isn't fully developed in children. You can get a face feelings chart and point to the difference faces, one at a time, asking your child if it was/is how they were/are feeling. Let your child express themselves as much as they are able. Just listen and hear them out.
Honestly, you will probably hear some things you don't like at some point. Stay calm. It's not the end of the world. Your child won't want to talk to you if you overreact every time they share something you find hard to hear. Just accept what they are saying as their truth (even if it isn't your truth), it helps validate their feelings. Remember, they have a right to have their own thoughts and feelings and they won't always feel the same way you do about things. That's okay. They need to do that as part of their journey into the adult they are growing towards every day. Don't panic. It's something to celebrate! You are helping them process their emotions in a way that will help them grown into a healthy, happy, successful adult.
You might be tempted to interject your feelings into the conversation, don't do that. Yield to the temptation to make it about your thoughts, your feelings, your expectations. In fact, let go of your expectations of the outcome altogether. I cannot emphasize enough that this time time is about your child, not you. It helps to put yourself in their shoes. Remember back to when you were a child and a moment (or several) in time when you wanted your parents to just listen, but they didn't. You wanted to feel loved and validated, but the conversation left you feeling upset and belittled. Let go of the need to control the conversation, even if you don't like where it's headed. You were a child once too with the same needs your own child has. Give them a gift you may not have ever been given, the gift of being listened to without judgement, only love.
Following the PLAY method help your child feel loved and validated while learning to process their emotions in a healthy way every time. Here's a bonus you may not have realized yet - sticking to the PLAY method, builds the bond of trust between you and your child. All high vibrational feelings are rooted in trust, just as all low vibrational ones are rooted in fear. Not only are you and your child processing hard emotions together to build trust, you're moving towards a higher way of living (vibrationally), which leads to the gifts of peace and joy. Who knew a little PLAY could be so enlightening. :)