Everyday Ways to Build Emotional Intelligence With Toddlers

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Anyone with a toddler at home knows the have BIG emotions sometimes. As parents, we want to help our toddlers learn how to manage all those emotions and build upon their emotional intelligence—but where do we start? There are simple ways to integrate talking about feelings and emotions into your everyday life with your toddler. 

Building emotional intelligence involves learning the range of emotions (and names), and how to recognize them in ourselves and others. Additionally, we want to understand why we might feel the way we do. To help your toddler build their emotional intelligence, build discussion into your daily conversation about feelings and emotions. 

Making Faces out of Food

This is a fun activity with a dual goal of talking about feelings and heightening your child’s interest in mealtime. When putting together your child’s plate, invite them over to help you make a face with the food on their plate. 

Ask the child what emotion or feeling they want to put on the face. Your toddler can pretend to feel that way and make their face look angry, sad, or happy—whatever feeling they have chosen. You can ask questions like “what would their eyebrows be doing if they were angry?” or “do you think their mouth should be open or shut if they are shocked?” 

This absolutely does not have to be Pinterest perfect—just have fun! And of course, it doesn’t have to be every meal. Doing something fun and different with meals can also lessen mealtime stress and encourage your child to eat more or try new things. 

Discuss the Feelings of Book Characters

While reading with your toddler, point out the faces of the characters. Ask them how that character might feel and why. Ask them how they might feel in that situation. With my son, we like to try making the same face.

This is a great list of children’s books to further your discussion about feelings. with your toddler. My personal favorite is The Rabbit Listened, by Cori Doerrfeld.

Playground Observations

In our daily lives we have plenty of material all around us to talk about feelings. The book The Danish Way of Parenting describes how Danish parents often ask their children to think about how others are feeling.

For instance, if a child at the playground starts crying, you might say to your child, “That boy is upset. Why do you think they might be crying?” You can talk about that they might be tired, hungry, or have gotten hurt. Then you could say, “Sometimes when we are hungry or tired we get upset.” It normalizes that everyone gets upset, and for lots of reasons.

Sure, none of these activities is a magic wand to end your toddler from throwing tantrums. And naming your emotions and feelings may sound simple, but for toddlers it can be hard for them to understand why they feel a certain way. Being able to name their emotions can go a long way in helping them process those feelings, and just some of the beginning steps to grow in their emotional intelligence. 

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