Focusing on emotional intelligence in early childhood Sunday, October 25, 2020

When supporting children’s development and wellbeing in early childhood education and beyond, emotional intelligence is a vital element that should be nurtured.

More than a person’s ability to get high marks at school, solve complex mathematics problems or utilise a big vocabulary, emotional intelligence involves a variety of qualities and skills that help people to understand and manage feelings.

As early childhood educators, a firm understanding of how to teach emotional intelligence to children is essential. There are so many benefits that can be derived from well-developed emotional intelligence at all stages of life. It’s also important for educators to develop their own emotional intelligence too. The more we focus on soft skills and the power of emotional intelligence, the bigger positive impact we can have on the quality of education delivered across early childhood education settings.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is centred around possessing the skills to understand, utilise and manage your individual feelings, as well as the capacity to understand and respond to the feelings of others. While an IQ (intelligence quotient) is widely known as an intelligence measure, emotional intelligence is often referred to as emotional quotient, or EQ.

Many researchers and theorists have explored broad views of intelligence, the first and perhaps most prominent was psychologist Howard Gardner in the 1980s. Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory proposes that there are just that — multiple intelligences, and that we are not born with them all developed or available but can develop them. Emotional intelligence harnesses a number of Gardner’s theorised types: intrapersonal intelligence (understanding the self) and interpersonal intelligence (understanding others).

Today, emotional intelligence is considered to be highly valuable, enabling people to use feelings to guide their patterns of thought and their behaviours. It can also be useful to identify, respond to and predict the feelings and actions of others, for effective communication and relationship-building.

Benefits of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence can help people of all ages to develop skills that are valuable throughout education, relationships, employment and just about every aspect of life.

The benefits of emotional intelligence are far-reaching covering areas including the ability to:

  • Self-regulate emotions,
  • Communicate more effectively
  • Build strong relationships with others
  • Enhance empathy
  • Promote self-motivation
  • Improve the ability to listen and focus

With these powerful benefits in mind, it becomes clear just how impactful emotional intelligence can be for children.

Educators’ emotional intelligence

As well as being powerful for children, emotional intelligence is a crucial area of development for adults too. The opportunity to work on your emotional skillset is lifelong. For educators, focusing on your own emotional intelligence can help you to become the best educator possible.

Catalyst’s education approach is human-centred, enabling us to best support our learners’ emotional intelligence throughout the study journey. Role-modelling appropriate and positive behaviours is a huge part of supporting children’s development and wellbeing, and so we focus on growing emotional intelligence and soft skills for educators throughout their course.

All early childhood education learners are encouraged to engage with their learning in a meaningful way through self-reflection techniques facilitated in our Practical Placement Journals. This element of the coursework empowers learners to identify their own interpersonal and intrapersonal abilities and discover their full potential.

Strategies to teach emotional intelligence

Early childhood educators can play a crucial role in developing healthy emotional intelligence in children. They have the chance to develop in children the essential life skills associated with emotional intelligence, laying the lifelong foundation for children to flourish.

There are many ways to guide children to develop their emotional intelligence, such as:

Creating space for feelings

Feelings aren’t always convenient and you may not always understand why a child is feeling a certain way at a certain time. Despite this, when a child is experiencing emotions they should be validated. Connect with a child during these times and listen to what they are going through so that they too can gain insight into the experience.

Learning to identify emotions

Extending on the previous point, use the space created for feelings to encourage or support children to identify the emotion. Are they feeling sad or angry or embarrassed? Labelling emotions expands children’s emotional vocabulary. Further, identifying emotions is also useful for learning to read other people and what they might be feeling. Simple activities like showing children images of faces and helping them to identify the feelings the person might be having can be useful to build this skill.

Tools for handling feelings

Once a child can sit in their feelings and identify them, it’s easier for them to know what tools are available to handle the emotional experience. While all emotions are completely valid, not all behaviours and actions are acceptable so children (and adults) need to have strategies in mind to express their feelings in a safe and appropriate way. A simple one to utilise is deep breathing and mindfulness techniques.

Stories, songs, role play and role-modelling are all additional valuable educational endeavours to explore emotional intelligence. Through creating learning opportunities in early childhood education that lend themselves to the development of emotional intelligence in children, we can help to shape a more caring, kind and thoughtful future.

To learn more about our human-centred training, please contact us today.


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