8 Ways to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Toddlers


In the not-so-distant past, Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is for getting jobs but in this age of artificial intelligence and robotics where robots can practically handle most of the tasks that require human intelligence, emotional intelligence has become more important because it is one of the important soft skills that artificially intelligent robots do not possess- at least not yet.

Many organizations are prioritizing emotional intelligence for hiring employees because in the not-so-distant future, most of the jobs positions that would be left for humans to fill would be leadership positions which of course require a high degree of emotional intelligence and like Daniel Goleman once said “IQ and technical skills are important, but emotional intelligence is the Sine Qua Non of leadership” hence we much teach our toddlers how to be emotionally intelligent so that they can survive in this dynamic world.

So, what is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence was made popular by Psychologist Daniel Goleman when he wrote a book titled “Emotional Intelligence” in 1995.

He piqued everyone’s curiosity about the subject, and people started talking about the concept of emotional intelligence and of course, comparing it with general intelligence (IQ) which we were all familiar with.

Emotional intelligence comprises four major quadrants:

 1. Self-Awareness: Being in tune, and identifying with your emotions and feelings.

When your child is angry for instance, rather than throwing tantrums, kicking and shouting the house down, they should be able to identify what they’re feeling at that moment and say “I am angry” or “I am hungry”.

Helping your child develop self-awareness will help them build emotional intelligence.

2. Self-Control: This involves the management of emotions and this is the most essential part of emotional intelligence.

It doesn’t just involve identifying emotions, but also correcting them especially in the heat of the moment.

 3. Empathy: Empathy involves teaching your child to understand how other people feel and being able to observe and notice what is going on with other people especially before reacting.

 4. Social Skills: The fourth quadrant revolves around relationship building- being able to build strong relationships.

All of these four quadrants make up emotional intelligence.

How to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Your Toddler

Every human is born with a part of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex which controls the ‘fight or flight’ response. Stress and many other strong feelings can stimulate this part of the brain by causing adrenaline rush and when this part of the brain is triggered, a human would feel the need to defend or protect themselves especially by responding aggressively to the source of the trigger.

Emotional intelligence training involves teaching your child how to control their pre-frontal cortex which helps to regulate emotions and calm down dangerous signals that trigger the fight or flight response, especially from their social environment and interactions.

It basically involves teaching your child not to take things personally.

As a toddler, your child’s brain is yet to fully develop and they pretty much lack the biological tools to regulate their emotions and handle stress. It’s easy for their pre-frontal cortex to run free and drive them into flight/fight mode every now and then so it’s your job as a parent to help them control it as they grow to become adults.

So how do you do this?

 1. Learn How to be Emotionally Intelligent:

Many of our children’s behaviors are modeled after us parents and apart from that, you cannot teach your children to control their emotions when you have no control over yours.

So the first step on this journey obviously, is to learn how to control your own emotions.

 2. Understand Emotional Dynamics:

Emotions are neither good nor bad; our minds and bodies are very connected and every human has basic emotions that they always have a tendency to feel whether they want to or not. Fear is one of them.

Everyone pretty much acts from a place of fear so you must learn these dynamics and teach it to your child- teach your child that people’s reactions, whether good or bad, are usually based on fear and people don’t act wrongly because they just want to be mean or dramatic.

Usually, there’s something else going on in their minds; something that may not be visible on the outside but there notwithstanding, and responsible for their actions.

You must teach your child to understand this as it will help them develop empathy.

When people act harshly around your child (maybe the waiter is being rude), rather than castigate them, explain their behavior to your child “I think that waiter is being rude because they’ve had a long and busy day. It must be tough attending to hundreds of customers with different needs every day

 3. Teach Your Child How to Manage Anger: Anger is one of the basic emotions that humans naturally feel along with seven other basic emotions which include Fear, Sadness, Surprise, Disgust, Anger, Joy, and Trust.

These emotions can trigger a rush of adrenaline and this rush can stimulate the pre-frontal cortex and induce strong responses which may be negative.

Emotional intelligence involves teaching your child healthy ways of controlling this adrenaline rush like taking a walk, quietly getting up and removing themselves from negative environments (timeouts), running, working out, blocking out the noise, and so on.

It’s always great to teach your kids how to do this from an early age so that it will become a part of their behavior as they grow older.

 4. Teach Them Problem Solving:

Another tip that works is to teach your child to focus on solving problems and not on the problem itself.

When we focus on problems or the source of problems, it’s normal to have strong feelings about them but when we focus on how to solve the problem, it counters the negative feelings and creates positive feelings of hope and potential happiness rather than fear, disgust, and other negative emotions.

When a toy stops working or maybe someone damages your child’s belongings, teach your child that the solution doesn’t lie with yelling at the culprit or trying to make them feel terrible about what has happened- that’s not going to fix the toy but picking up the pieces, and maybe trying to fix it or taking it to adult to get it fixed is a potential solution to the problem.

 5. Don’t Try to Trap Their Emotions:

Emotional intelligence is not repressing your child’s feelings or teaching them how to bottle them up inside.

We are all humans and we all have a right to the way we feel; your child does too. Your job is to teach them better ways to express and manage those feelings by first showing them that their feelings are valid but there are better ways to manage them.

Instead of condemning their feelings, tell them “I understand that you’re so angry because your brother broke your toy. I understand how you feel but it’s not okay to hit anyone or yell at them when you’re angry, Instead, you can do this and that” go ahead to suggest better ways for them to express their feelings to others without allowing negative reactions.

 6. Teach them to Use Words to Express Their Feelings Rather than Act it Out:

As soon as your toddler learns to speak, teach them how to use words to express the way they feel instead of acting it out and throwing tantrums.

Teach them to say exactly how they feel and make sure you never judge them or castigate them for feeling that way.

If there’s anything you can do to change the way they feel, do it and if there isn’t, validate their feelings, empathize with them and explain why they can’t get what they want at the moment.

It also helps to suggest ways or alternatives that can help them get over their feelings.

 7. Teach Your Child Anger Management:

Some children are more prone to anger because of their genetic makeup or because of the way their brains are wired.

If you notice that your toddler gets angry easily, you can sign them up for anger management classes so that they can learn how to control it.

 8. Use Rewards to Encourage Emotionally Intelligent Behavior:

When your child gets a reward for a habit, they would want to keep doing that thing which you rewarded them for- that’s just human nature, we thrive on the pleasure of rewards so one way to encourage emotionally intelligent behavior is to reward your child when they display emotional control and intelligence in situations where they could have reacted strongly and let their emotions control them.