MEMBER WELLBEING: Emotional Intelligence and Young People

When things are stress­ful and place us into sit­u­a­tions which inter­rupt our reg­u­lar rou­tine, oth­ers often ask how we are feel­ing.  This is not always an easy ques­tion to answer, espe­cial­ly if you are young or your emo­tion­al intel­li­gence is not high.  Emo­tion­al intel­li­gence is the abil­i­ty to be aware of, con­trol and to express your emo­tions and our capac­i­ty to do this, influ­ences our inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships.  Peo­ple who are high in emo­tion­al intel­li­gence can artic­u­late how they are feel­ing and have an increased aware­ness and empa­thy for oth­ers.  They can express their feel­ings and emo­tion­al states and under­stand what oth­ers might be feel­ing and how to help.  For younger peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly lit­tle ones, like any oth­er part of our devel­op­ment, emo­tion­al intel­li­gence grows with expe­ri­ence and comes with its own lan­guage which we have to learn.

When we are lit­tle, we gen­er­al­ly describe events as good or bad and our lan­guage is typ­i­cal­ly lim­it­ed to hap­py and sad.  Whilst this basic lan­guage gets us through on a day to day basis as we grow, for extreme events such as COVID-19 where we are exposed to sit­u­a­tions and expe­ri­ences which are out­side of our nor­mal devel­op­men­tal expe­ri­ences, basic lan­guage can leave us exposed to not being able to artic­u­late what we are feel­ing.  Basi­cal­ly, you may be ask­ing your child a ques­tion, they do not have the lan­guage or body aware­ness to answer in a way that is accu­rate or mean­ing­ful.  So how can you help younger chil­dren to increase their emo­tion­al vocab­u­lary?

It would not be abnor­mal or unusu­al to feel stressed or anx­ious right now, to be wor­ry­ing about what might hap­pen to us and our loved ones and to wor­ry about the future.  How­ev­er, we can decrease these wor­ries and ratio­nalise them if we can explore them a bit more.  For exam­ple, if a young per­son tells you that they are scared, it can be help­ful to ask them what that means to them.  What does it feel like and what they are scared of.  Can they draw ‘scared’ or relate it to a book or movie they have read or watched.  Can they show you a face of what that emo­tion looks like? Can they describe it as a colour? Can they express out of ten how scared they are now com­pared to a time before when they have felt scared?  What does ‘scared’ feel like in their body?  Is their heart going faster, are they feel­ing sweaty, do they feel like they want to run and hide or do they just want to stand still?  If you can help the young per­son to describe, draw or relate scared to a pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence then you can begin to ratio­nalise or nor­malise it for them and help them to increase their emo­tion­al vocab­u­lary.  Nor­mal­is­ing scared by state­ments such as ‘Yes, some­times I feel that way too but then I have to remem­ber that every­thing is going to be okay because we are being care­ful by wash­ing our hands etc, we are safe and we are loved, soon things will return to nor­mal etc etc”.

By allow­ing the young per­son to describe their emo­tions in terms of how it feels in their bod­ies will also help you to under­stand what is going on for them and to be aware and mind­ful of signs when this might be worse, for exam­ple, if you notice they are extra fid­gety, over­ly emo­tion­al, sweaty, qui­et or with­drawn or if they are hav­ing night­mares.  By help­ing them to increase their aware­ness of their own bod­ies reac­tions to their emo­tions and their emo­tion­al lan­guage; you will also be able to sup­port them more and offer them com­fort.  By behav­ing in a way which is safe and pre­dictable in allow­ing your child to express their emo­tions with­out dis­miss­ing them and by giv­ing a calm and con­sis­tent response, you will help your child to process what is cur­rent­ly hap­pen­ing in their world.  You will also be teach­ing them a valu­able skill which will help them under­stand theirs and oth­ers respons­es to stress lat­er in life and a skill which they can take into oth­er rela­tion­ships.

Pam Bubrzy­c­ki

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