5 Ways To Help Kids Communicate Their Emotions (With Less Drama)

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parenting kids with confidence and emotional intelligence

As parents, we're all heavily focused on cultivating our kids' academic intelligence. But how much time do we spend actively developing our child's Emotional Intelligence (or EQ)? 

Yes, your children can read above grade level, but can they handle frustration or disappointment without melting down? Do they engage well with others and maintain healthy friendships easily?

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand, communicate and control your emotions, as well as assess the emotions of others and respond appropriately. It's a critical life skill that impacts a child's ability to function in life (now, and in the future) and maintain relationships. (You and I also need solid Emotional Intelligence to be great parents.) 

Psychologists John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey, define Emotional Intelligence as the “ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” 

There are four main areas of Emotional Intelligence, which we can use to boost our kids' social confidence and elevate their EQ. Here is an overview of the four areas and how to start developing them in your child: 

1. Teach them how to notice their own emotions (and the emotions of others).

To understand emotions, we must first be able to accurately detect them by looking for clues from body language and facial expressions, and listening for verbal cues. To help your kids:

  • Find books or games that demonstrate different facial expressions. Ask, “What emotion does this picture show?” or, “What do you think this person feels?”
  • Point out emotions ... in friends, in family, in yourself, and in your child. Look for teachable moments: “I could tell that Sarah was sad today. Did you notice that she sat quietly and played by herself all afternoon?”
  • Talk about how you feel. When kids notice your emotions, especially sadness, squash the urge to say, “I’m fine.” Instead, try, “Yes, I’m sad. Thanks for noticing.” If they seem worried, add, “But everything will be fine. Being sad is part of life.”

2. Help them realize there are always multiple emotions to choose from. 

When children are aware of their emotions, they have terrific decision-making tools. Again, noticing and talking are the keys:

  • When children have a decision to make, don’t give them advice. Help them evaluate their options based on their feelings. “How would it feel if you choose this option?”  “Would this other option make you feel better or worse?” 

3. Help them understand the story behind emotions. 

What is the real cause of someone’s emotion? That’s a hard one! We're all guilty of assuming someone else's emotions are about us. 

  • Create stories about strangers while you’re waiting in line or at a restaurant (just make sure you’re well out of earshot of the other people). Talk about how you think they're feeling about their fictitious situation. An example: “That couple is on their honeymoon, and she’s really annoyed because she just discovered he snores.”
  • When your kids take other people’s reactions personally, help them consider another perspective. “I know Grandpa sounded angry last night, but I don’t think he was really mad at you. I wonder what else could be going on with him?”

4. Hold them accountable for managing their emotions.

Life is full of up and down emotions. Managing those ever-shifting emotions can be tough; for those with ADHD, self-regulation is a tremendous challenge.

  • Talk through the process of shifting emotions. “Wow, you are really angry right now! What could you do that would help you calm down?” Do it for yourself as well, and then tell your kids about it. “Mom needs a time-out right now to calm down.”
  • Find teachable moments.  When you lose your cool, take responsibility and apologize for it as soon as possible. Talk with your kids about how easy it is to get upset when our buttons get pushed. Reacting emotionally is normal and automatic, but we can also work on changing our responses. Help you kids learn that they are in charge of how they respond. That will help them learn to manage more effectively.

5. Most importantly, talk about emotions frequently. 

Regular discussions about how emotions show up and impact our day are just as important as “How was school?” conversations. The more you help your kids practice this critical skill the sooner they'll go from emotional “uh-oh”s to mastering true emotional intelligence.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus and Diane Dempster, founders of, teach/write about practical strategies to parents of “complex” kids with ADHD and related challenges. To help your kids find the motivation to get anything done, download their free parent’s guide, The Parent’s Guide to Motivating Your Complex Child.

This article was originally published at ImpactADHD. Reprinted with permission from the author.