Emotional intelligence is the ability for one to detect, identify, understand and control their emotions. This is a skill that is largely taken advantage of by most adults however to a toddler or a preschooler it is one of the hardest skills to master.
As parents we often find ourselves getting frustrated when our toddlers and pre-schoolers 'chuck a tanty' over some meaningless quarrel or misdemeanour. I speak from vivid experience on this topic as I face many meltdowns daily over the smallest issue. Just tonight our 4 year old dissolved into fits of screams for no apparent reason which was both baffling and annoying (not to mentioned awfully loud!).
Of course the reason behind these seemily unprovoked overreactions is so simple its laughable. When I asked my son why he was so upset he simply answered "I don't know" and when I asked him to stop crying he said "I can't". Despite my knowledge of emotional intellegence and psychology in general I found these answers very frustrating (mostly because I was tried after a long day at work and it was just so loud. So very loud.). The fact is that, as annoying as it was, my son was learning an important lesson, adding this experience to a bank of similar experiences from his very short past. He was learning how to identify his emotions (sadness), find the reason for it (he was tired and needed a cuddle) and learn how to control it (by asking for a cuddle instead of screaming.) Of course it is this last step that is the hardest to learn and the last to master for young children.
So what can we learn from this? As parents, teachers, adults and humans in general it should be our mission to help those younger and less experienced learn emotional intellegence. To help them detect, name and use their emotions to achieve positive outcomes in their lives. So how do we go about this mammoth task? Patience, and lots of it. Those who know me will tell you that patience is not one of my best traits! But patience, unfortunatly, is what it takes.
So every day, when one of my children experiences an overwhelming emotional outburst I try my best to hold my patience and attempt to follow the following steps:
1. Get down to the child's level: This shows that you are not trying to dominate them and helps them feel safe.
2. Identify their emotions for them: remember they don't understand why they feel so out of control. They just know that they feel something very strongly and will do what they can to get what they need. It may feel a bit silly at the time but it's an important step. It's also easier said than done. If you've ever been confronted with a toddler screaming uncontrollably then trying to calming say "I can see you're very angry/frustrated/sad etc" feels a bit like trying to stop a bushfire with a water pistol. Regardless of how silly it feels or how pointless it seems it is important for the child to be able to put a label on what they feel. To hear from a trusted adult that what they are feeling is normal. This is the first step to being able to control and use their emotions to build positive relationships with others.
3. Let them know that it's OK to feel the given emotion and give an alternative to the current behaviour. Again this feels pretty useless when your toddler is lying in a screaming heap on the supermarket floor but it is important to let them know that there are other options (even if that doesn't actually happen for a few years). So you can tell the child "It's OK to be angry but it's not OK to throw things." Or you can use another technique that I have found to be useful. By asking an out of control emotional child to blow out imaginary birthday candles or blow up a pretend balloon you can quickly deescelate their behaviour as it helps them take deep, controlled breaths which physically calms the nervous system.
4. If you have tried the above and are still faced with a toddler lying in a puddle of tears in the middle of Coles then all you can do is wait. Stand there calmly and wait until they calm down. Don't man handle them or get mad but let them calm down on their own and they will eventually learn that it is OK to feel emotional and that they have the power to control. Also, go via the Chocolate aisle, you've earned it.