Educating teenagers to develop emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise and respond effectively to emotions.  When your teenager is able to practice and develop these skills it allows him or her to build strong relationships, make good decisions and deal with difficult situations.

But connecting emotionally to your teenager can be hard. Teenagers can be defensive and brittle, they strive for independence and are often deeply critical and rejecting of a parent’s advice. So how can you best develop the kind of relationship with your teenager that will help them to develop the skills of emotional intelligence?

One of the most effective tools for developing emotional intelligence is the presence of regular open conversations. Through these conversations your teenager begins to recognise their feelings, understand how they came about, sort through how others might feel and importantly, put their own feelings into heartfelt words.


Creating Space to Talk

Finding a way to open up conversations with your teenager can be challenging. Here are my five top tips:

  1. As soon as an opportunity to talk comes up, grab it. Teenagers are often more relaxed and comfortable when they’re in the car with you (there’s something about sitting alongside each other and looking ahead that seems less threatening). Another good time might be late at night when they are more settled. Go with their natural preferences and make best use of these times. A conversation that flows more freely and comfortably is far more helpful than one that has to be pushed by you.
  2. Work hard to understand and acknowledge your child’s point of view. If this is difficult then you might say ‘can you help me understand more – I can see you feel really strongly about this’.
  3. Notice if you feel personally attacked or criticised and let it go. The most important thing is that your teenager is putting difficult feelings into words, as they express themselves their emotions will begin to slow and calm and their understandings will become more balanced and less critical.
  4. Talk far less than you would normally. Conversations best happen when you provide a space for your teenager to reflect and think things through. You can empathise gently and promptly, but as a rule of thumb I suggest talking at least 50% less than you would to another adult
  5. Be careful not to push your child for information. It’s important that the pace is comfortable and easy and that they don’t feel pressured or rushed.


My final piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. Supporting a teenager’s emotional intelligence is a bumpy ride. Sometimes they seem to pull away and withdraw, whilst at other times their emotions are loud and dramatic. Your efforts to create the space for small moments of connection and understanding will gradually help to steady distressing emotions but also build up stronger understandings and ways of connecting to others.  Nothing is more helpful and supportive then this.

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