How can you teach your teen to recognize and express their feelings in healthy and appropriate ways? Better emotional intelligence is linked to better grades, better relationships, better mental health, and more career success. Read on for more information about helping teens cultivate emotional intelligence.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the “ability to identify, understand, and manage our own emotions and the emotions of others.” Some people naturally have more emotional intelligence, while some people need to work on these skills. Emotional intelligence is something everyone can work on and improve, and it naturally develops as we mature. This takes time–think of it as an ongoing goal, like staying healthy by exercising.
There are a number of benefits of increased emotional intelligence. Teens who work to cultivate emotional intelligence may have:
- Stronger relationships and better social skills
- Strong communication skills
- Ability to work well on a team and with others
- More flexibility and adaptability when faced with change and stress
- Good decision making and problem solving skills
- Less impulsivity
- More confidence
- Increased resiliency and grit
Creating more self-awareness by labeling emotions is essential for helping teens cultivate emotional intelligence. One way to help teens is by discussing feelings in conversation with them. Try asking “how did that make you feel?” or “what was your initial reaction?” when talking about daily events. You can also encourage teens to keep a diary to notice patterns in their thoughts and feelings.
Another way to help teens increase self-awareness is by starting to recognize what triggers certain emotions for them. Maybe when they are hungry, they tend to feel angry. You can observe how they feel happy after they exercise, or how they feel frustrated after getting a bad grade in math. Your observations may help them begin to notice their own triggers and patterns.
Show empathy and validate feelings
Instead of dismissing your teens emotions (which may seem dramatic at times!), try validating their feelings. Showing empathy is great way to teach empathy, even if you don’t quite understand what your teen is going through. Try to find a common ground. When your teen feels like you understand, it’s less likely they will feel the need to show you how they feel through their behavior (like screaming or crying). Learning empathy and having compassion can help teens with conflict management as well.
To validate feelings and show empathy, modeling social skills like active listening can be helpful. Active listening can help others feel loved and care for, and your teens can understand this from experiencing it in their relationship with you.
Model healthy and appropriate expression
To help your teenagers learn to be emotionally intelligent, as a parent you also have to learn and model emotional intelligence. Learning to be okay with your own emotions and dealing with them calmly is key. This helps teens understand they can work to manage their emotions and even choose their mood, instead of letting their emotions dictate their behaviors.
Work to develop a strong, caring relationship with your teen. This allows them to feel safe in their emotional expression and provide space to work out their feelings. To provide more space for their expression, ask open ended questions instead of questions that require one-word answers when talking to your child. Be honest about your own emotions, embrace your imperfections, and talk about your mistakes. This can help encourage a growth mindset in your teen instead of feeling like they are “good” or “bad” at emotional intelligence.
Find healthy coping skills
To help teens deal with their emotions, you can help them discover and develop healthy coping skills. Try creating a space for them to calm down in their room. You can also encourage them to work to find what helps them calm down already–listening to music, taking a walk, making art, spending time with a pet, or writing in their journal. You can introduce new coping skills like mindfulness and deep breathing as well.
Help teens develop their problem-solving skills as a part of cultivating emotional intelligence. You can teach them that part of coping with difficult emotions is dealing with the problems that cause these emotions. Come up with three or four ways to solve a problem that’s causing certain feelings. Coach them through problem-solving and review when they make mistakes, but let them develop their own skills.
Are you looking for more support for yourself or your teen? Please reach out to us. Our team of therapists is here to provide support and guidance. We look forward to connecting with you.
Kate is the Founder and Clinical Director of Sage House Counseling & Art Therapy. With nearly ten years of clinical experience, I partner with you to connect back to your authentic, true self. The self that desires happiness, abundance and greater self-compassion. I work with clients just like you because I believe we all have the innate ability to heal and grow when we are heard and supported.