Emotional intelligence is critical to early childhood development as children begin to understand their own emotions.

March 28, 2024

Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children

Emotional intelligence (EI) is an individual’s ability to perceive emotions in themselves and others, understand what those emotions mean, and manage their emotions accordingly (Robbins & Judge, 2017).

EI is an emerging topic that has been used interchangeably with the term emotional competence. Emotional competence in young children — expression of useful emotions, knowledge of emotions of self and others, and regulation of their own and others’ emotional expressiveness and experience when necessary — contributes to their social and pre-academic adjustment, throughout their lifespan (Denham et al., 2022). 

EI is critical to early childhood development as children begin to understand their own emotions. Early development of EI can not only help children learn to better manage their emotions early on in life but can also help them with impulse control and development of positive interpersonal relationships. Children who have higher emotional intelligence have less problems with attention, are more engaged in school, and display more empathy towards others (Tominey et al., 2017). This results in more academic and personal success throughout life.  

Modeling and direct instruction can be effective tools in helping children learn how to manage their emotions. Steps that parents can take to help their children’s emotional intelligence is to learn how to be emotionally competent themselves by being aware of their own feelings and sensitive to the emotions of their children. Parents should model emotional intelligence especially in challenging situations. Parents should listen and give full attention to the emotional expression of their child, validating their feelings. Parents should help their child become aware of their feelings and develop language that describes their emotional expression (i.e., sad, angry, hurt, etc.). Parents should help their child understand that while having emotions is normal and acceptable not all behaviors are acceptable. For instance, letting the child know that they can be angry but behaviors such as yelling, hitting and throwing things, etc., are not appropriate.  

Another strategy that parents and teachers can use to help children develop emotional intelligence is the RULER method. Help children Recognize how they are feeling and Understand what led them to feel the way they do. Help children find words that Label or describe how they are feeling. Help children Express their feelings in ways that are appropriate for the time and place. Help children Regulate their emotions in the short- and long-term. For instance, if the child is feeling angry, how can you help them shift their emotions so they don’t remain fixed in a negative emotion.  

The greatest method to help children develop emotional intelligence is by helping them to place less focus on themselves and understand their true identity in Christ. Furthermore, children should be taught how to bring their emotions under the subjection of the will of God. Teach children from an early age that “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32 ESV 



Christina Wells is a physician and serves as health ministries director for Lake Region Conference.