Emotional intelligence (EQ) has been rising on parents’ priority lists for the last few decades. While previous generations primarily focused on traditional concepts of intelligence – like learning colors, numbers and letters – we’re now beginning to understand the significance of raising emotionally intelligent kids. Managing emotions and feeling empathy are hugely beneficial to a child’s success with relationships, academics, and their overall well-being.
Despite its notable appearance on the early education scene, emotional intelligence can sometimes be misunderstood or overlooked. That’s why we wanted parents and caregivers to know the early signs of emotional intelligence in toddlers, so they can be nurtured and encouraged. If your child hasn’t shown any of these signs yet, there’s no reason to worry. The Gottman Institute, which conducts research on emotional intelligence, explains that there are lots of strategies parents can use to start enriching their child’s EQ. Remember that it’s never too early or too late to begin fostering a child’s emotional health.
Here are some early signs of emotional intelligence in toddlers:
You may be thinking, “Well, doesn’t every toddler cry?” Excellent point! Yes, all toddlers cry. But this early sign is more about our reaction to crying and not just the act of crying itself. Crying is often viewed as negative, unwelcome, or disobedient behavior in society. When toddlers cry in public, parents and caregivers may feel embarrassed or anxious. But it’s important to remember not to repress crying, as it’s simply a young child expressing an emotion. Toddlers who feel they can safely cry around caregivers without receiving a negative reaction or being told to stop are exhibiting early signs of emotional intelligence.
They Can Label Their Emotions
Labeling emotions is an important social-emotional milestone in early development. Knowing what it means to be mad, sad or afraid, or the subtle difference between frustrated and angry, is an essential part of emotional intelligence. Let’s say your toddler is having a playdate and runs to you because a friend is playing with a toy they want. Hearing them say “I’m mad at Ella!” may initially evoke the urge to shut it down, but this declaration is actually a positive sign of emotional labeling.
They Show Early Signs of Empathy
Empathy is a cornerstone of EQ. It is the ability to recognize how someone else is feeling, care about it, and react in an understanding and compassionate way. While toddlers are mostly egocentric creatures, they slowly develop an awareness of how others feel throughout their second year. You might notice your toddler talk about how a character in a book is upset. They might offer you a hug when they hear you’re feeling sad. They might even get excited to celebrate a peer’s birthday. These early acts of empathy are evidence of a toddler’s developing emotional intelligence.
Curiosity is also a sign of emerging emotional intelligence in toddlers. Wanting to explore every corner, touch every surface, and ask “why?” thousands of times a day can be cumbersome for parents and caregivers, but they’re all wonderful characteristics of emotionally intelligent people! It’s important to give special attention to these curious kiddos so their yearning for knowledge will continue throughout the years.
Recognizing early signs of emotional intelligence doesn’t only help toddlers thrive, it can also help us strengthen our own emotional intelligence as well! It’s a win-win for everyone’s emotional growth.