A big part of helping our kids navigate life is accomplished by giving them the tools they need to grow in their emotional development and understanding.

How to Strengthen Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

by John Chisholm
3/23/21 Signs and Wonders Camps

Effective parenting involves helping children process life. As our children mature, we have the privilege of walking them through the ups and downs of each developmental stage.

Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.
(Proverbs 22:6)

From the full limb-flailing floor tantrum in the supermarket to the tears shed after a playmate’s harsh words, we see how much emotions impact children’s daily life and behavior. If we as parents feel lost for words when we see the meltdown unfold before us, imagine how our children feel.

A big part of helping our kids navigate life is accomplished by giving them the tools they need to grow in their emotional development and understanding—”train up a child.” As parents, we need to build their emotional intelligence.

1. Help Your Children Put Their Emotions into Language

Kids need to learn how to relate to and deal with their emotions. Emotions shouldn’t lead, but they need to be openly talked about so kids can begin to identify with words how they are feeling. An easy way to help them with this is by asking specific questions. Start with “How are you feeling?” But don’t leave it there. Be more specific by labeling the emotion you think your child is experiencing. “Are you mad?” “Are you sad?” “Do you feel nervous or scared?”

Taking time to investigate your child’s emotional responses through questions will help validate the emotion as well as give language to it. When the emotion is negative, don’t shy away from it. The more you allow your children to vocalize and label their frustration at failures or hurt feelings from friends, the more you help them relate to the emotion and put it into perspective. This may sound counter-productive—we don’t want to encourage more outbursts and irrational activity—but it is part of the process.

Kids need help learning to relate to their emotions—the good ones and the bad ones. Give them space to do so.

2. Help Your Children See You Model Empathy to Others

One of the best ways to learn empathy is through example. Your kids should see you act with genuine kindness to those around you. This includes to your spouse!

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, . . . even as Christ forgave you. (Colossians 3:12–13)

When you are frustrated by the long line at the checkout counter or the sales clerk’s lack of competence, remember that you reap what you sow. Set a good example for your kids in the area of self-regulation and empathy.

3. Help Your Children Actively Try to See Another Person’s Point of View

This is also scriptural.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4)

This does not come naturally to kids—especially when emotions are heated. When your children are upset, have them take a few deep breathes and engage their left brain thinking by asking questions like: What are you upset about? Validate the feeling and then ask, How do you think your friend felt when you said . . . ? How do you think your teacher felt when you did . . . ?

It may take a while for them to answer. That’s okay. Don’t shy away from helping them craft responses to the question. The point of the questioning is to help them see that other people have feelings too. Helping kids see from another perspective is a vital life skill for success in the long haul, not just the first few elementary school years. It is never too early to start.

When you see your children showing compassion or empathy to someone, celebrate it! Make a big deal of the positive and praise their effort. Showing that empathy is something you value through praise and celebration will incentivize your child to replicate it.

You may be thinking, What about when my child is the one who is hurt? As parents, it is in our DNA to want to protect our children from pain. We don’t want them to experience negative emotions, so with an instinctual knee-jerk reaction to shield them, we miss our actual job description.

Our job as parents is to equip them for success. “Train up a child in the way he should go.” Every life involves pain and negative emotions. The way to equip our children for success is by teaching them how to process those inevitable hurdles.

4. Help Your Children Healthily Navigate Bullying

We need to help our kids identify the signs of bullying and give them tools for addressing it when they see it happening. Because there is often shame tied to the issue of bullying, coaching your kids in and out of season is crucial.

There are many helpful articles and websites dedicated to preventing bullying. I won’t go in depth here—but I do want to mention the importance of emotional intelligence as it relates to the topic. Children who are able to identify, know how to relate to, and can vocalize their emotions will be better equipped to ask for help when they experience or witness kids treating kids cruelly.

Our tendency to overprotect our children leaves them ill-equipped to function well in the classroom or on the playground. Later, it has the potential to set them up for unrealistic expectations or unhealthy boundaries in relationships and the workplace.

It is a given that we don’t want to see our children hurt. That won’t, nor should it, change. It is important, however, that we frame those moments as an opportunity to not only comfort our kids but to teach them how to persevere and grow in resiliency and empathy as a part of the process. That leads me to my last point.

5. Help Your Children Build Their Own Self-Esteem

A focus on emotional intelligence—learning more about it and how to build it in our children—ultimately leads to an increased development of their self-esteem.

One way you can start the process is by consistently giving them feedback—honest feedback. Another way is to give them experiences where they can interact with others (often their peers) and learn-by-doing. Either way will require your support. 

Parents can take feedback to two extremes. One extreme would be commenting only on what needs to be improved. This can be defeating and deflating to a child’s self-esteem. The other extreme would be giving feedback only on the things a child is doing well. This is problematic because it does not normalize failure or help the child see that they can push through difficulties and grow.

Help build your child’s motivation, self-regulation, and resiliency by giving them balanced feedback. Praise the wins and effort—but don’t be afraid to correct and coach when it is called for. Self-esteem is rooted and developed when children meet a challenge and grow through it. Maybe a shy child enters a new environment and discovers they can make friends. Or an extroverted child learns that they don’t always have to be the center of attention.

Showing your children the opportunities to improve a skill or redirect a decision is giving them an opportunity to build their self-esteem.

It is never too early or too late to develop emotional intelligence. But as it is with most things, the earlier you start, the more of an advantage you have. This is a process that includes both social and family interactions as parents are preparing their children for active roles in society, family, and in the Church.

Building a child’s emotional intelligence needs to be a part of every parent’s perspective. Emotional quotient (EQ) gives language and a framework for healthy development. Take the time as a parent to learn these five components of emotional intelligence and then find creative ways to bring them into your daily interactions with your kids. You won’t regret it.

Emotional intelligence, the ability to make emotions work for you instead of against you, is an essential quality of effective people. Could you name few practical things you can do to increase awareness of both yourself and your surroundings? 

If you’re looking for a positive outlet for your children to learn about God, interact with others, and walk in the Holy Spirit’s power, we recommend Signs & Wonders Camps. Our camps span from ages 4 to 12 and include opportunities for kids to worship, pray for the sick, and engage in high-energy activities and games. Learn more >>

John Chisholm


  • Senior Leader, IHOPKC

Originally from central Illinois, John moved to Kansas City with his family in June 2013 to join IHOPKC. He pastored a Vineyard church from 1988 to 1996, and then worked as a management consultant for 18 years, mainly in accounting. At IHOPKC and Forerunner Church, John serves as executive director of Community Life, overseeing the friendship groups and pastoral support ministry. John and his wife, Fran, have six adult children.

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