How to teach your teenager emotional intelligence
So you’ve heard emotional intelligence is a worthwhile skill for your teen to have. It increases resilience and self-awareness, and assists in the development of healthy relationships.
Emotions for teenagers can be pretty intense. Their bodies and hormones are going through big changes, and this can often be accompanied by big feelings. If your teen can use emotional intelligence to recognise and control their emotions, they'll be better equipped to handle the somewhat tumultuous period of adolescence.
But how do you know if your teen is already emotionally intelligent? Or what they should improve upon? If you need to brush up on your understanding of emotional intelligence, its many benefits, and how to recognise whether your teen is already displaying signs of emotional intelligence, you can read our article Why is emotional intelligence important for students?
Here, we’ll be sharing our top tips for teaching emotional intelligence to teenagers. It will involve taking a close look at your own emotional intelligence, and we hope throughout the process you’ll discover a few new things about yourself too.
Let's delve into some practical advice on how to teach your teenager emotional intelligence.
How to develop emotional intelligence in a teenager
Talk openly about emotions
The first step to cultivating emotional intelligence in teens is being comfortable talking openly about emotions. Outdated phrases like ‘boys don’t cry’, for instance, stifle emotional intelligence and growth, and promote toxic masculinity. So, if your household tends to sweep emotions under the rug, it’s time to take steps to get everything out in the open.
Start by calling out and labelling emotions in everyday conversations. At the dinner table, you could begin a tradition of asking each other how your day was (you might even already do this) but start your responses with “today I felt X because X”, or “today I did X and it made me feel X”. This is a simple way to start recognising and validating emotions. It may feel a little odd to begin with, but it will soon become natural for you and your family.
Simple exercises like this will help your teen reflect on how certain situations, people or events make them feel. Emotions for teens can be difficult to decipher, so naming and articulating the difference between emotions can be super helpful. Furthermore, recognising emotions is the first step towards understanding how to manage them.
Once your teen can recognise their emotions, they’ll start to foresee how certain situations may make them feel and react, and why. This kind of foresight can be very valuable, especially if your teen experiences other mental health conditions such as anxiety.
A self-aware teen can admit when something makes them feel a certain way. For example, your teen might commonly feel anxious when meeting new people. Once they recognise this about themselves, they’ll be able to see upcoming situations where their anxiety may kick in and learn to prepare for these – for instance, when a new teacher takes one of their classes at school, or they join a new sports team. Preparing for emotional responses can lead to effectively managing emotions, perhaps even adopting strategies that will lessen their anxiety.
Help them manage their emotions
Your teen can now admit to feeling certain emotions and can recognise situations that will cause an emotional response. The next step in teaching emotional intelligence for teens is managing emotions. There are some great tools you and your teen can try out together to help manage emotions.
Apps for managing emotions
- MoodKit: helps to manage negative feelings, keeps track of mood shifts and promotes mindfulness activities.
- Smiling Mind: provides meditation assistance to young people and encourages calmness, contentment and clarity.
- Calm: offers guidance on calming breathing techniques to employ when feeling heightened emotions.
- Spotify: While this isn’t a specific mindfulness or wellness app, music is sometimes the best therapy for helping a teen to manage their emotions. Encourage your teen to put together playlists that will counteract negative emotions, e.g. a playlist of soothing, calm songs for when they’re feeling angry or irritable.
Remember, your teen may process and cope with emotions differently to you.
Help them find the best way to manage heightened emotions. They might play video games to de-stress after exams or have a creative outlet such as painting or playing music when they’re feeling frustrated. If they know they’re entering a situation that will make them feel emotional, they might try some calming breathing techniques beforehand to prepare themselves. The important thing is that they can:
- recognise when they’re feeling heightened emotions or
- discern when a situation may arise where there is the potential for them to get emotional, and
- put processes in place that will soften the blow of these emotions.
Demonstrate good listening
Emotional intelligence is not only about being aware of one’s own emotions, but also empathising with the emotions of others. We recognise other people’s emotions mostly through sight. The expression on people’s faces and the way they act are often the strongest indicators of how they’re feeling. But being a good listener is critical to understanding and empathising with what others are feeling.
It's so important, however, to let your teenager know they don’t have to take on the emotions of others to show empathy.
While empathy is about being able to understand and relate to how another person is feeling, there are forms of empathy (cognitive and compassionate) that allow you to connect with an emotional person without being consumed by their emotions. Often the best way to do this is by listening and perceiving.
Teenagers can find it all too easy to get caught up in the emotions of others and be at risk of derailing their own emotional stability and mental health. Teaching them to be a good listener will allow them to recognise emotionally charged situations with others and show them that they can be supportive without carrying the weight of everyone else’s emotions.
Sometimes what people going through a hard time need most is for someone to sit with them and listen. Often, they don’t need a response, advice or reassurance – simply validating someone’s emotions and showing support by allowing them to verbally vent can be enough.
You can teach your teenager to be a good listener by demonstrating this yourself. If they need to have a rant about something that happened at school, listen patiently and remember to validate their emotions. Practise your own cognitive empathy by attempting to put yourself in their shoes and understand their frustration. You don’t have to agree with your teen to empathise with them, but you do need to understand where they’re coming from and why.
Your teen will pick up on your listening skills and hopefully emulate this in their relationships with others. Some young people may need a more obvious push towards practising good listening. If your teen cuts you short when you’re speaking to them, pull them up on it and remind them of the importance of listening. Have an open conversation with them about mutual respect and empathy, and make a pact to focus more on listening to one another.
In time, your teen will learn to empathise rationally with others by being a good listener.
Emotional intelligence in teenagers can be difficult to teach, but remain patient and persistent. As with any other skill, developing emotional intelligence takes time and practice. Continue recognising emotions in everyday conversations and working your way through the advice above.
Developing emotional intelligence early will help your teen move smoothly into adulthood, will strengthen their relationships, and could even improve their employability.
Want to know what other skills will give your teen a competitive edge when looking for employment? Read our article What skills do employers want?