Emotional Intelligence and Young People
When things are stressful and place us into situations that 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 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 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 that 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 their and others’ responses to stress later in life and a skill which they can take into other relationships.