We all have feelings that affect what we do in life. They provide useful information if we pay attention to them. Feelings can make us smarter, direct our attention and focus our thinking often in helpful ways. They direct our decision making and impact our health. We need to help our children recognize their feelings and use them properly.

The ability to use and express feelings and to understand and regulate emotions to enable good living is called emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand feelings, to put them into words and to use them at the right time in the right way. How do parents and caregivers help children develop their emotional intelligence?

By age 4, children start to use strategies to eliminate things that upset them, like covering their eyes if something scares them or covering their ears if a sound bothers them. Children consistently use more complex strategies to regulate their emotions by age 10. They either learn to solve their problems and tolerate emotion or use their feelings improperly, upsetting themselves and their parents and caretakers.

In adolescents, higher emotional intelligence means less depression and anxiety, even preventing suicidal behavior. Higher emotional intelligence might even relate to higher SAT scores, greater creativity and better grades.

As teens grow older, they might experience better relationships with friends and parents and express less anxiety, depression, stress and burnout. They will have more success in their lives and become better leaders in their chosen profession.

Some parents may see their children’s emotions as unimportant and try to distract their children. The American Association of Pediatrics sees parents using tech to calm or pacify their children’s negative emotions, using media as a strategy to do so. This prevents parents from setting limits in their children’s future use of technology and promotes the children’s inability to learn and develop their own emotion regulation.

Some parents see children’s emotions as undesirable and punish them for showing their emotions. Parents may accept their children’s emotions but fail to help children solve such problems or learn appropriate ways to handle their emotions.

Dr. John Gottman suggests five ways to help your children: 1) Be aware of your children’s emotions. 2) See the emotions as an opportunity for connection and teaching. 3) Listen to your children and validate their feelings. “I can see you are upset when your brother takes the Legos you need to make a garage for your cars.” 4) Help your children label their emotions; your son may be more than upset; he might be angry or furious — labels you help him understand. 5) You may suggest ways for your children to solve their problems but allow them choice.

Their emotions might be acceptable, but the negative behavior resulting from their emotional outbursts is not. Helping children control their emotions in the right way will benefit them throughout their lives. It may take a great deal of patience now to teach your children these ways, but a happier future for all will result.

Southern Arizona resident Bette Mroz is a former teacher, reading specialist and principal. As a mother and grandmother, she continues to help her family learn. She can be contacted at bettemroz@gmail.com

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