Thought getting your kids to behave better was mostly about making your own life easier? Think again. Children who are more able to control their impulses and understand their emotions (children with good self-regulation skills and emotional intelligence) are better prepared for whatever the future might throw at them, from concentrating on difficult tests, to dealing with disappointing news, to managing complex relationships. And the good news is that these are skills you can help your child develop – by providing structure with family rules.
Emotional intelligence and self-regulation are important because they free up headspace for learning and making friends.
Emotional intelligence and self-regulation are two skills that can impact everything kids do. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to monitor your own and other people’s feelings, to tell different emotions apart, and to use that information to guide your thinking and actions. Self-regulation, meanwhile, is the ability to moderate your actions and emotions. It’s being able to calm down when you get upset, and adjusting the way you behave to fit the situation. When a child stays quiet in order to listen to others, waits their turn, or shares a toy with a friend, they are using self-regulation.
Research has shown that kids with high emotional intelligence are able to connect with others more easily and maintain higher-quality relationships with family and friends. But emotional intelligence also helps kids do well at school. It frees up some headspace for learning, leading to higher overall intelligence, advanced problem-solving skills and enhanced deductive reasoning. Research has shown that emotions help kids “focus on important information when trying to solve problems” and “come up with creative ideas and solutions”. An emotionally intelligent child is more likely to feel calm and make space for deep thinking. Noticing patterns like these can help kids gather information about which feelings are helpful for which task and use it to their advantage.
And kids who can regulate their emotions are better prepared to cope with challenging situations. This could be anything from concentrating on a difficult test, dealing with disappointing news, or managing complex relationships. What’s more, kids with better self-regulation skills have been shown to be more sociable, have better grades, and even achieve better SAT scores later in life.
How can parents help kids develop these skills?
Much of what parents go through today would have been unimaginable to previous generations: heaps of homework, exam pressures, social media, massive multiplayer online games, cyber safety, the list goes on. The complexity and pace of rapidly-changing value systems have made it increasingly difficult to know what it means to be a good parent. What’s the optimal ratio of structure to freedom?
Interestingly, the research around raising children hasn’t changed as much as people think. Rules - in moderation - are very healthy for children. Rules give children the structure they need in order to start figuring out what the right thing to do is in different situations and help them develop good habits. Setting guidelines within a warm and supportive environment teaches kids what they can and can’t do, whilst also giving them the tools they need to figure out when it might be okay to break the odd rule here and there. In other words, rules can help build the foundations for children to develop emotional intelligence and self-regulation.
Here are some handy, research-based parenting tips on how you can help your child develop these skills:
- Make the rules of the house very clear! Talk about rules with your kids and help them understand why they are useful and what would happen if they didn’t exist. Be consistent in following the rules yourself and stick to the consequences you agreed upon for when rules are broken. But be prepared to adjust the rules as your child grows older and is ready to handle extended rights and more flexible rules.
- Encourage your child to express how they feel. Words help kids to name and contextualize complex emotions. The ability to self-regulate is not as simple as just decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones - being free to cry or talk about how you feel is an important part of self-regulation.  Moreover, in order to develop emotional intelligence, kids need to be actively shown to have empathy for others.
- Encourage your child to read. One of the best ways to develop emotional intelligence is to read a lot. Anything to help children detect emotion in people’s faces, voices, music, and stories is good for them! Identifying with characters can really help kids pick up on emotional cues and develop empathy. 
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