I am pleased to welcome back to Autism Mom guest writer Hilary Smith. In this article Hilary offers suggestions for opportunities to increase emotional intelligence.
It’s no secret that parenting is hard. After all, we have to teach our kids to navigate the world of complex emotions, instill social etiquette, and empower our children to overcome adversity. This isn’t easy on any given day.
However, many of us have found that learning emotional intelligence and other social skills can be even more of a challenge for our children with autism.
Emotional intelligence is an important life skill, because it allows our children to develop and sustain relationships. Marc Brackett, the Director of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, said it best when he described emotional intelligence as
“The process of integrating, thinking, feeling, and behaving in order to become aware of the self and of others, make responsible decisions, and manage one’s own behaviors and those of others.”
For children on the spectrum, it is important we teach and instill basic emotional intelligence skills so they can thrive and engage with the world around them.
Far too often, our boys and girls avoid eye contact, struggle to read nonverbal cues, and are more comfortable with their own thoughts, which inhibits their ability to interact and learn these social skills so many other people take for granted.
With a little work, we can help our kids develop emotional intelligence today, so their tomorrows will be brighter. Scroll through the following guide to help our kids develop emotional intelligence:
Acknowledge his or her perspective and help label emotions
We can’t personally control a child’s meltdowns, anger, or withdrawal, but we can empathize and help them learn to communicate their feelings.
This doesn’t mean we agree the behavior, we are just showing we can see their side of things. This allows our children to understand the emotions they are feeling, recognize emotions, learn soothing techniques, and develop empathy.
“I know you are excited and happy to play the game, I can see your eyes are big and your mouth is wide open.”
“I know it’s hard to look at me when I talk to you, but you need to look in the direction of people so they know you are listening.”
Encourage kids to express their emotions
If we deny or minimize their emotions we might be sending the message that their emotions are unacceptable and should be repressed. This can lead to surprise behaviors like hitting, nightmares, or the development of a nervous tic.
Instead, teach children it is normal to have strong feelings, but we can’t always act on them. Over time, children will learn to regulate their emotions and accept their feelings.
“It is alright to be angry, but we can’t hit or scream. When you can, please use your words to tell me how you feel.”
“You look frustrated. Do you need to cry? Everybody needs to cry sometimes.”
Our children often just want a chance to be heard and we need to make sure we are listening to what they tell us. Typically, after a child expresses her feelings, she can move forward.
It’s important we listen without judgment, anger, or criticism and be fully invested in the process. Create a safe atmosphere and just hear them out to empower our kids with healthy coping skills which can prevent tantrums, fights, and more.
Here are some suggestions to help start a conversation:
“You seem unhappy. It’s alright, everyone gets upset now and then. I am here, why don’t you tell me about it.”
“It’s okay to be upset. Why don’t you tell me about what’s making you feel this way?”
Teach ways to solve problems
So far, we have only discussed a child’s emotions, but children also need real and actionable steps to help them learn emotional intelligence.
Teach methods like breathing through strong feelings, learning tolerance, problem solving, talking about their feelings, using literature and media to model different techniques, and leading by example.
Listed below are some examples to coach problem solving:
“You are disappointed that Connor is sick and can’t come play. Why don’t we brainstorm a list of ideas of something else to do that sounds fun?”
“I can tell you are frustrated that Ashlynn didn’t share her toy. I wonder what you could do to help her know how you feel?”
Sometimes our kids experience emotions that they don’t know how to handle. Children often feel powerless, sad, angry, frightened, jealous, or pushed around.
Use play to process these conflicts and learn about feelings, teach coping methods, and possible resolutions to the issues by playing. Use a child’s love for Legos, dolls, horses, or anything else to encourage them to play out their emotions.
Also, don’t forget the power of laughter!
How do you encourage emotional intelligence in your children?
Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics. She has published articles for Autism Mom including Tips for Protecting Children on the Autism Spectrum Online. She has also published Cyberbullying and Dyslexia and How to Help Your Kids Deal With Bullying.
Also published on Medium.