Emotional intelligence means being able to understand, manage and express your emotions, and use effective communication skills. As simplistic as it sounds, it’s a skill often overlooked in school systems and further education, despite being vital for health, wellbeing and personal relationships.
Typically, people who have learnt emotional intelligence are more empathetic, self-aware, resilient and optimistic. They also tend to have improved leadership abilities and problem-solving skills, which is why Early Childhood educators with emotional intelligence are so crucial to the industry.
In this blog:
How does emotional intelligence help in Early Childhood education?
Educators in early childhood centres face challenging situations every day. Sometimes they have to deal with their own emotional responses, as well as the emotions of children in care, their families and even co-workers.
For instance, children may become upset, anxious, scared, or lash out under an educator’s care. There may be many pressures coming from their workload, difficult legal situations with families, or changes to the pedagogy. And, they may need to handle criticisms or complaints from parents.
In all these instances, emotional intelligence can help early childhood educators to:
- Recognise and moderate their own emotional response, and deal with a situation appropriately.
- Have empathy and respect for other’s emotions.
- Be able to build positive and trusting relationships by recognising the feelings and needs of others.
- Nurture children’s emotional and social development.
- Foster resilience and self-regulation in children in a positive way.
- Communicate effectively with families, children and co-workers.
- Lead and inspire others to develop emotional intelligence, as well as care and empathy for others.
Developing emotional intelligence skills
Emotional intelligence is something every person needs to learn. It’s a skill that can be developed, nurtured and improved through teaching and practice.
While there are specific programs that teach emotional intelligence, there are some basics that everyone can reflect on to get started.
Here are the four main areas of emotional intelligence that can be improved:
Being self-aware means taking stock of your own emotions, responses, motivations and weaknesses. For those in early childhood roles, that can mean paying attention to feelings, thoughts and behaviours that come up in response to the actions of children and colleagues.
In response, you can ask yourself: why did I feel or react that way? What might have been a more measured response if I was able to empathise with the other person?
A step beyond being self-aware is managing your emotions, impulses and responses. Self-management can mean using different coping strategies to slow down the automatic response, and give your body and mind time to see the situation without being clouded by emotions and reactive behaviours.
Coping strategies can include breathing techniques, talking to a colleague, positive self-talk, and even humour. There is always the option to ask for a third party to help diffuse the situation and give you time to manage your own response.
3. Social awareness.
It’s easier to self-manage when you are able to utilise social awareness. That means understanding and empathising with the emotions and perspectives of another person, even when that person is a small child.
Social awareness requires you to observe and listen to others, and ask open-ended questions that can give you better insight into their feelings. It fosters respect, appreciation and compassion for all parties in the situation.
4. Communication management.
Being able to communicate effectively is the final key to developing emotional intelligence. It means you can communicate without the filter of your own emotions and build positive relationships and outcomes.
You can build communication management skills by using active listening, non-verbal cues, giving and receiving feedback and resolving conflicts with collaboration.
How educators can support children’s emotional intelligence
While emotional intelligence is crucial for adults, it’s just as important to foster it in young people. Children can be given opportunities to learn about, reflect and manage their emotions in healthy ways according to their age and development.
Early childhood educators can help children develop emotional intelligence by:
- Role modelling. Demonstrating emotional intelligence and communication strategies to children is one of the best ways to foster it in them to use later. Verbalising the steps as you go through them helps children understand it; talk about how you’re managing your emotions, using coping strategies, and communicating effectively.
- Emotion coaching. Encourage children to recognise and regulate their emotions using five steps: emotional awareness, connecting, listening, naming emotions and finding good solutions.
- Curriculum integration. Emotional development and management can become part of the daily activities in the classroom and the playground. It can be incorporated into stories, songs, games and art. Drama pieces can explore emotions, and music can help children identify emotions.
Above all, what’s required in an early learning environment is a space where children and staff feel supported in their emotional intelligence journey. They should be encouraged to express emotions in a healthy and productive way and respond to each other with empathy.