Building Emotional and Social Intelligence in Kids

03 September 2018


What is Emotional and Social Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence refers to someone’s ability to recognise, understand and manage their emotions. People with good emotional intelligence have strong self-awareness: they can articulate and regulate their feelings and they understand how their emotions can affect their behaviour and their thinking, especially in stressful situations. For example, if they’re kicking a wall, the person must be feeling angry. If they can articulate how they are feeling they can attempt to change it and make themselves feel better.

Social intelligence relates to how a person recognises, understands and responds to another person’s emotions and feelings, and how they build and maintain their relationships. Listening, showing empathy to others, sharing, communicating, resolving conflict and maintaining healthy relationships are all indications that a person has strong social intelligence. Being able to see someone else’s point of view, for example, and how their point of view might impact how they feel and behave.



There is a strong connection between emotional and social intelligence. Building these skills in childhood provides an important foundation for good mental health throughout a child’s life and increases their chances of having lasting, healthy relationships with those around them. Emotional and social intelligence improve a person’s resilience, helping them bounce back quickly from setbacks and disappointments. They are also more likely to have a good set of values that guide their behaviour towards others.

For kids, evidence has shown that learning these skills means that they are better able to make and maintain healthy friendships and deal with bullying in positive and appropriate ways. Research shows that children do better at school when they are emotionally and socially aware. They are also much less likely to become a bully and can work through negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, fear, anxiety and frustration.


What Can Parents Do?

Kids aren’t born with these skills: they learn them from their parents, brothers and sisters, extended family, carers and friends as they grow up. Evidence suggests that the period from birth to early school age is critical in developing these skills. The role of parents in building social and emotional intelligence is critical, and there is a lot parents can do to build these skills and encourage their kids’ development.

Modelling and Demonstrating

One of the most important ways children learn behaviours and skills is from watching their parents. Modelling good behaviour and demonstrating healthy relationships shows children how social and emotional skills work. Parents should work to build their own strong friendships and to provide good examples of interacting with people, both friends and strangers, on an everyday basis. Showing how you deal with mistakes, setbacks and problems is important too. Watching how you approach these situations can be good learning opportunities for children.

Talking with Children About Their Feelings

Kids need to be able to recognise and name their feelings to understand and communicate them. Teaching very young children the words for their feelings, gives them the tools to start recognising and expressing their emotions. For older children, discussing how they are feeling on a regular basis, helping them name how they are feeling and encouraging them to understand why they feel the way they do all boost their emotional and social intelligence. It is good to talk openly about your own feelings in front of or with your children and discuss how others might be feeling in a situation of conflict, such as a child’s friend or sibling.

Dealing with Emotions and Relationships

  • Encourage kids to observe their own behaviours and the behaviours of others in their relationships and provide feedback, guidance and praise positive behaviours.
  • Discuss and explore positive and appropriate ways that kids can communicate their emotions and feelings and react and respond to the emotions and behaviours of other people.
  • Get children thinking about why someone might be acting in a certain way; what they might be feeling, and help kids explore how they can resolve conflict and solve problems in a way that meets their needs and the needs of the other person in the relationship.
  • For older children, practise and role-play how to solve a particular problem.

Building Connections

Giving children your full attention is extremely important to build a connection with them and builds a strong foundation for your child to make connections with others. This is essential from birth; make eye-contact with babies as you hold and talk to them and respond to their signals and needs. Talk and listen to toddlers and pre-school children and involve them in everyday activities. Make time for singing, reading, games and cuddles and put away or turn off distractions such as phones or the TV. Being fully present for kids and giving them your total attention will help develop these skills and also give you both a joyful sense of mindfulness and fully appreciate each other’s company.

The Importance of Play and Reading

There is more and more evidence that play is vitally important to a child’s learning and development. Play builds imagination and problem-solving skills and helps children develop their emotional and social skills. Provide kids with lots of opportunities to play: give them toys to play with but also allow them to work out their own way of playing.

Reading and storytelling are important tools for helping children explore their own emotions and for getting them to think about others, helping to build empathy and compassion. Ask children questions about why a character might be doing something or how they could be feeling about what is happening in the story helps kids to use those skills in their own lives and relationships.


Books About Feelings

Hinkler has some great books for exploring feelings, behaviour and relationships that can help parents and carers discuss and explore emotional and social intelligence with kids. These books provide great opportunities for kids of different ages to identify emotions and feelings, discuss the motivations behind other characters’ behaviours and explore with parents what they might do in a similar situation.

Too Sneaky to Share and Too Fast to Follow are the latest titles in a series of books covering emotional and social issues like the ones kids face daily. This series features charming stories and illustrations that touch on themes such as shyness, persistence, individuality and anxiety.

Too Sneaky to Share covers themes around sharing, friendship and helping others, as Fox initially ignores the offers of help and needs of others as she prepares her den for the winter before learning a valuable and heart-warming lesson.


In Too Fast to Follow, a speedy little seahorse must learn how to consider the feelings of others and the value of friendship after he tries to force his friends to play his way with humorous results.


For younger readers, How Do I Feel: A Book About Emotions is a great way to engage with toddlers as they turn the wheel to learn to name and identify their emotions. Children can think about how they would feel in different situations, providing great opportunities for parents to talk about coping with emotions and working through issues in relationships.


In Moveable Eyes: How are you feeling, Thomas?, pre-schoolers will love exploring emotions with Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends as he faces different situations over the course of his day. Children can move Thomas’s eyes to match the emotions on Thomas’s face.


Emotional and social intelligence are skills that will set your children on the path to becoming successful, empathetic children, teens and adults so are skills well worth encouraging.