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5 At-Home Activities to Build Emotional Intelligence in Children

This post is sponsored by Playstories. All opinions are my own.

Emotional Intelligence is an essential skill for children to develop in order to demonstrate self-control, express empathy, and navigate social situations, and recent research shows that parents play a vital role in this process. By providing your child with opportunities to focus on these skills at home you can help them succeed in life by giving them an advantage when dealing with difficult situations.

A mom and dad reading with their son. Text: How to develop a child's emotional intelligence.

In today’s world, it is more important than ever to have emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions as well as those of others.

This skill set can help children develop self-control, empathy, and self-confidence in social situations.

But how do we help children develop emotional intelligence?

I know that many parents do not feel equipped to teach their children how to master their emotions, but I promise you have all the skills you need.

As a teacher, I have had hours of training to help me learn how to address and build the emotional intelligence of the students in my classroom and one thing I want all parents to know is that it is easy to integrate social-emotional learning (SEL) into your daily lives at home.

In fact, there are many tools and techniques that are available to help make the process a time of fun and connection for you and your child.

Today, I’ve partnered with Playstories to share five easy, at-home activities that allow parents and children to work on their emotional intelligence together.

How Parents Can Help Children Develop Emotional Intelligence 

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1. Read Together

Child reading a book about frustration with parent. Social emotional learning.

Reading with your child is one of the best ways to focus on social-emotional learning at home.

Reading together not only provides an opportunity to bond with your child, but to also have fun while learning together. 

When selecting books for children, I recommend looking for stories with relatable themes such as excitement, frustration, sadness, and joy.

"How I Feel" page from an SEL book for children.

Reading books that deal with real-life experiences and emotions will help your child to see that feelings are a part of life and will allow them to recognize a range of healthy emotional expressions

While there are many children’s books with characters that kids can relate to, I have found that children are most engaged in stories where they are the main character. That is why I love the new social-emotional collection from Playstories.

(Featured: The Little Monster of Anxiety and The Little Monster of Frustration from Playstories)

Their brilliant team has created a variety of books designed to help children navigate some of the most common and difficult emotions for kids. 

Completely customized to include your child’s name and an avatar that looks like them, your child will be glued to the pages as they read a story that they star in and learn how to manage challenging feelings. 

The stories cover all the major emotions of childhood from happiness to sadness and everything in between.

Close up of the cover of the Playstories book about frustration for kids.

The books will also provide abundant opportunities for discussion and reflection. These types of discussions will allow your child to begin building an awareness for their own emotions as well as those of others.

Action Step: Create a personalized Playstories book for your child  (15% off)

2. Play “I Spy” Games

Mother and son looking out the window.

The best way to help children develop emotional intelligence is by playing games that require them to recognize, identify and express emotions and “I Spy” is the perfect way to acquire this skill.

You are probably familiar with this popular game focused on guessing objects based on their color, size and location, but it can also be used to help kids learn to  identify emotions.

When playing this game with your child, make sure to look for things that are emotionally charged. For example, try finding an object in the room that makes you feel happy or sad and then discuss why it is making you feel that way.

You can also use “I Spy” to help children learn how other people may be feeling based on their facial expressions and body language.

For example, if you spy a child crying in the park or at school then ask your child: “Why do you think she is crying?”  “Do you think he’s feeling sad? Why do you say that?” This can help children develop empathy while learning how to identify emotions in others.

Action Step: Make SEL fun by turning it into a game.

3. Talk About Feelings

Mother and son having a conversation.

Oftentimes, children do not have the language or skills to accurately express their feelings so it is up to parents to teach them how to do so. 

This helps your child understand themselves better while learning to manage their emotions when in high-stress or high-pressure situations.

As a parent you can model this by talking with your children about your own feelings throughout the day and what caused them.

Setting an example for your child will help them when they are dealing with their own difficult situation.

For example, if your child is angry after losing a soccer game or gets upset because another child took her toy without asking (a common problem), then take the time to discuss why she feels those ways.

You can ask questions like:

  • “What made you feel that way?”
  • “How did it make you feel when [other child] took your toy without asking?”

Once the emotions have been discussed, ask them what they could do differently next time. For example: “You can ask for her to give you a turn and if she says no then we can find someone else to play with.”

Using statements like this also helps children learn how to verbalize their feelings better instead of acting them out in negative ways.

Action Step: Use personal experiences, books and television shows to spark discussions about feelings and social situations.

4. Practice Mindfulness

Mom and daughter doing a mindfulness meditation | Social Emotional Learning At Home.

Being mindful is a great way for your child to stay calm during difficult times.

Mindfulness is all about being in the moment and staying focused on your breathing. When a child is feeling an overwhelming emotion such as anger or sadness, encourage them to focus on breathing slowly and deeply until it passes.

If your child is having a hard time calming down, it may be helpful to play soft music in the background or try doing an activity that relaxes them like drawing or painting.

When your child is feeling more relaxed, then they can try practicing mindfulness as a way to help them understand what emotions are and why they feel that way.

For example, have your child focus on their breath while imagining how it feels when they are happy or sad. Try asking questions like “What do you think happens in our bodies when we feel sad?” 

This will help your child identify what emotions are and how they can use mindfulness as a tool for regulating their feelings.

Action Step: Practice deep breathing with your child when they become angry, anxious, or frustrated.

5. Role Play

Mom and son using stuffed animals to role play and learn about feelings.

Role playing is an easy way for children to learn more about themselves while developing stronger social skills. 

At home, parents can teach emotional intelligence by having their child do some role-playing with stuffed animals!

Have your child choose one stuffed animal that represents them and then another that they think is feeling a certain way—happy, mad or sad.

Then have your child act out different scenarios where the animals are either having an argument with each other over who gets to play on the swing set first or just hanging out playing in general. With my own kids, I love using the scenarios in the Playstories Feelings and Emotions Collection as examples to act out with our toys.

Action Step: Use make-believe and pretend play to help your child develop empathy and master their emotions in a fun and engaging way.

Final Thoughts 

Building your child’s emotional intelligence is important for their future.

As children begin to understand why they have certain emotions, it will be easier for them to recognize and manage their feelings without having a meltdown or lashing out at family members.

From reading to playing, there are a variety of strategies you can use to strengthen your child’s awareness of their feelings and emotions at home.

By providing plenty of opportunities for your child to practice these skills, they will become more confident in expressing themselves and managing their feelings, which will serve them well for years to come.

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