The importance of emotional intelligence in early childhood

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Intelligence is a quality that is highly sought after in people, and in today’s society it is now known to extend beyond a person’s ability to solve complex mathematics problems, use a large vocabulary or achieve high marks in school.

In fact, it is generally agreed that there are many types of intelligence, covering a range of qualities and skills. One type that has gained increasing recognition for its importance over recent years is emotional intelligence.

For early childhood educators, emotional intelligence is a vital element that should be nurtured when supporting children’s development and wellbeing in the early years and beyond.

Understanding how to develop this skill in children, how to learn it as an educator and the benefits that can be derived from it can have a huge impact on the quality of education delivered across early learning settings.

Developing emotional intelligence in children

Understanding emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence refers to having the skills and ability understand, utilise and manage your own feelings. It also includes 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.

There are several theories and extensive research available around emotional intelligence, but the first to introduce the concept of multiple intelligences theory was psychologist Howard Gardner in the 1980s. This theory, as the name suggests, proposes that there are multiple intelligences that we as humans are all able to develop. Intrapersonal intelligence (understanding the self) and interpersonal intelligence (understanding others) are two of Gardner’s intelligence types that make up the more general concept of emotional intelligence.

The benefits of building emotional intelligence

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

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

  • Build strong relationships with others
  • Enhance empathy
  • Promote self-motivation
  • Self-regulate emotions,
  • Communicate more effectively

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

Supporting emotional intelligence in children

Early childhood educators can play a crucial role in developing healthy emotional intelligence in children. Try these approaches to help guide children:

Acknowledging and accepting 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.

Labelling 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.

Strategies for managing 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 valuable educational endeavours to explore emotional intelligence. Through creating learning opportunities that lend themselves to the development of emotional intelligence in children, we can help to shape a more caring, kind and thoughtful future.

Emotional intelligence for educators

Emotional intelligence isn’t only important for children. The opportunity to develop your emotional skillset is lifelong. For educators, focusing on your own emotional intelligence can help you to become the best educator possible.

Supporting the emotional intelligence of our learners is important to us at Practical Outcomes. Role-modelling appropriate and positive behaviours is a significant part of supporting children’s development and wellbeing, and so we focus on helping them to work on their soft skills.

We strive to create opportunities for every learner to further develop their emotional intelligence throughout their study journey with our human-centred education approach. All 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.

Early childhood educators have the opportunity to develop children’s emotional intelligence, providing them with a lifelong foundation to flourish. By increasing the focus on building this skill at every stage of life, we can work together to create a compassionate future for all.

To learn more about how we incorporate human-centred education into our training, contact us today!

As seen in Child Care Australia September 2021 magazine


Make an enquiry

Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia
1300 799 610Enquire Now