How to Foster Emotional Intelligence in Children

Emotional Intelligence in Children

Why is Emotional Intelligence in Children Important?

As a parent, you have probably heard about the importance of emotional intelligence in children. You want to raise a child who is kind and empathetic. Our ability to function in human relationships has a significant impact on our quality of life. One’s ability to manage emotions in oneself and in others is crucial to being happy and successful.

Parenting plays a large role in the ways that children learn how to recognize and express their feelings, which sets them up for an emotionally healthy adulthood. Sometimes parents mistakenly believe that validating their children’s emotions is the same as spoiling them, or letting them “rule the roost”.

What We Know from 40 Years of Research

Dr. John Gottman is a research psychologist who has spent many years studying parent-child interaction.  In his book, What Am I Feeling he has identified four distinct parenting styles when it comes to emotion management. They consist of the Dismissing Style, the Disapproving Style, the Laissez-faire Style, and the Emotion Coaching Style.

Each of these styles differ in how adults teach their children how to recognize and handle their emotions.

Dismissing Style

In the Dismissing Style, parents often believe that negative emotions are harmful or unnecessary. As a result, they ignore the child’s emotions.

For example, when a child expresses sadness at not being able to visit Grandma, a parent using the dismissing style would say something like:

“Don’t be sad! You can see her another time”. The underlying message that is communicated is “Get over it!”

Disapproving Style

In the Disapproving Style, “bad” emotions are punished. Parents disapprove of children’s negative emotions and often believe the feelings are controllable. Instead of trying to understand the child’s emotions, they punish them for how they feel.

For example, when a young child is upset and crying, the parent utilizing the Disapproving Style may think the child is only crying to receive attention. The parent would say something like “Stop it right now!”, “Don’t be like that!”, or threaten punishment if the child does not stop crying.

Laissez-Faire Style

In the Laissez-faire Style, parents take a hands off approach in which children’s emotions flow freely without parental guidance. Parents that utilize this style are comfortable with their children expressing feelings. The downside of the laisse-faire style is that poor limit-setting can lead to behavioral problems.

For example if a child were having a tantrum in a grocery store, the Laissez-faire Syle parent would not intervene, and perhaps explain to passers-by that the child is sad about not being allowed to visit Grandma today.

Emotion Coaching Style

Finally, there is the Emotion Coaching Style. This style uses empathy and guidance to help children understand and handle their emotions.The Emotion Coach sees negative emotions as an opportunity for learning and connection.

For example, a child’s younger sibling accidentally breaks their new toy, causing the child to yell and scold their sibling. The children’s parent, using emotion coaching, will help the child put words to their feelings and find a solution. In the instance of the broken toy, the emotion coaching parent may say “I know that you are upset because your toy has been broken. Do you think it may have been an accident? What can we do to fix your toy?”

Impact of Different Parenting Styles on Emotional Intelligence in Children

The different parenting styles produce different outcomes. The Dismissing Style may lead to a more obedient child, and the Laissez-faire style may support independence. Disapproving Style will teach children how to bury their feelings which can be useful in many situations.

Emotion Coaching is ultimately the style that will be the most beneficial to your child’s emotional development. Children who learn to trust their feelings and regulate their emotions will be better able to solve problems, sustain solid friendships and feel more confident in themselves.

Emotion Coaching and Why It’s Worth It

Emotion Coaching values children’s feelings, while helping to guide their behaviors. The parenting style takes patience and effort, but it is worth it. Emotion coaching encourages healthy emotional development, so children are able to enjoy the happy times and recover from the bad times.

Strong emotional growth also leads to a slew of additional benefits like better relationships, better school achievement, and fewer behavioral issues.

Daniel Golman, Emotional Intelligence theorist and author of “Emotional Intelligence why it can matter more than IQ” speaks often about implementing programs in schools that focus on social emotional learning. In a meta-analysis of the schools with the emotion coaching program compared to those without the program, researchers found that antisocial behavior such as disrupting the class and violence in schools went down 10%, prosocial behavior like enjoying school rose 10%, and academic achievement went up 11%. Here is a link to a video with more information.


5 Steps to Nurturing Emotional Intelligence in Children

  1. Be awareof your child’s emotions
  2. Recognize that emotions are an opportunity to connect
  3. Listen with empathy
  4. Help the child put names to their feelings
  5. Set limits and and help with finding solutions


There is no denying that the Emotion Coaching parenting style is not the easiest method, and it is not possible to use this method 100% of the time. It is best to begin by identifying one of the 5 steps above as a starting off point.

If you are located in the Greater Philadelphia Area, our child specialist, Dr. Meghan Prato is now offering family therapy, parenting and co-parenting training. Click below to schedule a phone consultation.

Click Here to Schedule a Free 15 Minute Phone Consultation

For information about other important parenting topics, please take a look at these resources:

12 Warning Signs Your Child Has ADD

Video Tutorial Course on Bullying Prevention

Autism Spectrum Disorders


Written by Valerie Steinman