Teaching Kids Emotional Intelligence

teaching kids emotional intelligence

Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence was one of the most influential books I read in college – I still have my marked-up copy from 2001! In the book, Goleman explains why emotional intelligence can matter more than IQ. Here are a few things I do to help my kids develop emotional intelligence:

  • Free play: I try to make sure they have time for free play every single day. This can actually be hard to do during the school year, but I feel like play is a very important way for my kids to process their day, everything they learned at school, and the emotions that they felt and witnessed during the day.
  • Pretend play: This is really part of free play, but small world and role playing are two pretend play mechanisms that kids use to explore emotions within a safe context. I’ve noticed that my kids’ toys are really whiney sometimes – and I’ll take that over my own kids whining!
  • Family time: Kids learn so much through healthy family interactions! When parents get upset, kids watch to see how parents express those emotions. When my kids see me navigating stresses in my own life in a healthy way, they are more likely to respond healthily to stresses in their own lives.
  • Picture books: Picture books are great ways for kids to safely explore emotions – and, so long as you live near a library, you can find great kids’ books on nearly every topic, from bullying to welcoming a new baby into your family.
  • Label emotions: As soon as an emotion has a name, it loses some of its power. Naming how a child feels is often the first step to moving past the intensity of the emotion towards problem solving. We use toys (like the Button Bot from ALEX Toys in the image at the top of this post) and pictures in books to talk about feelings and reasons characters might have these feelings. For younger kids, I like really defined emotions, but now that my kids are getting older I enjoy more neutral faces that can be interpreted in different ways by different kids in different circumstances so that we can explore more complex emotions. The Button Bot has different faces you can swap in and out; the one below could be interpreted as frustrated, scared, or startled, depending on your child’s story line:

exploring emotions with kids - emotional intelligence tips

How do you teach your kids emotional intelligence?

I am an ALEX Toys blogger and receive product from them as part of that agreement, including the Button Bot featured in this post. All opinions are my own.


  1. Megan says

    What a good post. My three year old is incredibly advanced intellectually, but struggling with her emotions. I just had baby no 2, and am in the midst of that hormone/no sleep/emotional war zone, and have been hoping to find some resources to help her learn better emotion management. Just ordered the bot and the book! Hope it helps us both! I’m having such a hard time adjusting to my new life, and I’m ashamed to say I frequently model poor stress management :(

  2. says

    Emotional Intelligence was a watershed book for me as well. And thanks for the reminder of one of the reasons I make free play / pretend play a priority! Always good to get back to the root reasons why we do the things we do.

  3. Aruna - Young Yoga Masters says

    I like the free play time, especially with different options that don’t include screens.

    Last week I wrote about acknowledging feelings, especially when kids ask for things. Acknowledging feelings helps smooth out the desires even when they are not fulfilled. I give an exams of how well it can work in the comment love.

  4. says

    Monitoring and expressing our own emotions properly is so important. You are very right about that. I always notice that my difficult days often become more difficult when I vent my frustrations in not so great ways as that anger gets reflected back to me by the boys. It is a good reminder to practice the type of emotional intelligence that I want them to have.

  5. says

    Awesome post, I never really thought of this topic sad to say. But I think I do a lot of the things you mentioned naturally. However, i need to express my frustrations better especially in front of my child, I sometimes say to myself when he is frustrated and fussing and overly agitated, man he is really my child. But really it’s probably him mimicking how I usually deal with things when I am fed up and frustrated. Sometimes I forget little eyes and ears are on me.
    You’ve given me a lot to be sure I consider when reacting to things.

  6. says

    I came here from your recent post. Beautiful. Somewhere my being impatient, irritated-all-the-time being is changing Aarya too. I am sick of my behavior, and in my heart I have decided to change…. this just gave me enough reasons to start the changing in me and talk about emotions with him too. Naming the emotion – is the 1st step (thanks for the tips)


  1. Teaching Kids Emotional Intelligence - Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting | Red Apple Reading Content Sharing | Scoop.it says:

    [...] How do you teach your child emotional intelligence? Here are some ideas to get your started!  [...]

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