Estimated read time : 5 minutes
Why is it that when one baby cries another will also cry, and when someone can’t stop laughing you find yourself laughing as well even though you have no idea why; this is because emotions are contagious. Emotional contagion is where we feel a reflection of someone else’s emotions by looking at their expressions and actions. How someone is feeling can be caught, in fact, emotions are more contagious than flu!
It is very easy to think our children will not realize when we are upset or unhappy but actually they are likely to start feeling the same way without knowing why. A good example is when they are being dropped off at school and they start feeling anxious because we are feeling anxious about leaving them.
Why is emotional contagion useful?
Emotional contagion can enable us as parents to interpret and understand how our children are feeling in a particular situation and thereby empathize. It is the skill that enables us to ‘catch’ a feeling in a child such as fear or anxiety by a look or facial expression. This will mean that we can support the child to understand how they are feeling by labelling it and then help them with ways to manage this.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
The ability to recognize, identify and manage emotions involves emotional intelligence (EQ). It is said that this is the key to happiness and foundation for managing relationships. How emotionally intelligent are you?
Some would say that developing emotional intelligence is more important than developing your IQ. Your intellect may open the door for your job but your EQ will build your success in life. People with high EQ may make more friends and perform better at work, they become better leaders. This is why raising an emotionally intelligent child is becoming increasingly important for children.
Developing emotional intelligence in children
So what do parents need to keep in mind about raising an emotionally intelligent child? Here are four parenting tips for childcare that will help develop emotional intelligence in children:
Be aware of how your child feels in different situations and encourage them to talk about it e.g. ‘You look a bit sad, did something happen in school?’ Speak the language of emotions in your home so that your child learns to attach a label to a feeling. A child’s ability to recognize emotions in themselves is an important aspect of EQ, it is part of their self-awareness.
Help your child to recognize how others are feeling and empathize through children’s emotional intelligence training, e.g. ‘Aaran looks cross, has someone taken his car?’ ‘Jamie looks sad, let’s give him a hug’. Recognizing facial expressions and understanding emotions in others is part of developing emotional intelligence in children and is an important part of making and keeping friends.
You can validate the emotions without agreeing with inappropriate behaviour. Try not to disapprove of fear or anger as your child may try to repress or hide these feelings, e.g. ‘I understand you are feeling sad because Jamie broke your toy but let’s see how we can mend it’, ‘You seem worried about your school trip, I used to be worried about trips too’. Your acceptance will help them accept their feelings, which will allow them to look at resolving and regulating, and then moving on. Being able to regulate emotions is an important factor in children’s emotional intelligence training.
Children need to feel that their emotions are understood and accepted but developing EQ also involves moving on rather than wallowing, and that often requires skills in problem-solving. We can support our children in developing problem solving skills by first developing emotional intelligence in children e.g. ‘You must be feeling upset that Annie didn’t come for the playdate, when you feel better let’s think about something fun we can do together instead’. This type of children’s emotional intelligence training can have a long-lasting impact on their life.
Children have to manage strong emotions on a daily basis and we as parents can teach and coach them in important skills in self-awareness and self-regulation that will build their EQ and emotional success in life.
Jackie is an experienced speech and language therapist with a Masters in early childhood education. She has set up centres and early years provisions in London, Dubai, Lahore and now the London Learning Centre in Delhi in conjunction with Pooja Talwar.
Jackie is passionate to see children with additional needs receive the best evidenced based support at an early age and go on to achieve their ambitions in life.