How To Set Your Children Up For Success

For years now, there’s been much discussion of the vital role emotional intelligence plays in creating a successful life and living it with ease and grace. Despite that, we don’t often talk about emotional intelligence with reference to building an emotionally intelligent family unit or raising our children.

Several generations ago successful parenting meant feeding, clothing and disciplining children. Despite the sacrifices our parents (and theirs) may have made, it’s become obvious that their style of parenting is no longer enough. If we want our children to be successful and fulfilled in the modern age, emotional intelligence must become an important part of our vision for the family unit.


Research has shown that children perform better in school, engage in less negative behaviour and interact better with others if they’re learning about emotional intelligence. More than one study has concluded that emotional intelligence is a greater predictor of success than almost anything else, so it makes sense to start teaching it early.


Daniel Goleman, psychologist, author and emotional intelligence expert, puts it like this…

“Our emotions either get in the way of, or enhance, our ability to think and plan, to pursue a goal, to solve problems. Therefore, they define the limits of our capacity to use our mental abilities and determine how we do in life. And to the degree to which we are motivated by feelings of enthusiasm and pleasure in what we do or even by an optimal level of anxiety they propel us into accomplishment. It is in this sense that emotional intelligence is a master aptitude, a capacity that profoundly affects all other abilities, either facilitating or interfering with them.”

In short, providing our children with strong social and emotional learning skills is just as important as feeding them well and making sure they get enough sleep. If we’re to raise well-adjusted, successful children who can maximise their potential and truly flourish in life it’s absolutely critical we teach them to be emotionally intelligent.


Imagine how wonderful it would be if your family consistently functioned like a well-connected team where everyone felt valued and understood. If disagreements were handled with a minimum of fuss and tantrums became a thing of the past…

Raising children is a tricky balancing act, even for people who already have strong emotional intelligence skills. If we don’t set high enough expectations for good behaviour, our children can end up with a lack of self-control. This compromises their ability to display emotional intelligence and therefore succeed in life. At the same time, rigidity, harsh judgement and exceedingly high standards leave very little room for children to grow and learn from their experiences. That also ensures less warmth and compassion in the relationship, which is critical to raising a healthy, well-adjusted child.

So what do we do?

We create a warm, loving environment with clear, realistic expectations. We learn enough about emotional intelligence that we can teach it to our children. We use a parenting style that fosters emotional intelligence by using upsets and mishaps as opportunities for growth. We be patient and then be patient some more.

Most importantly, we practice emotional intelligence every day so that we can set a positive example for them. When we do mess it up (as we all inevitably will) we talk with our children honestly about what happened and what we plan to do differently next time based on what we learned this time.

When we parent in this way, we ensure our children are better equipped to handle the complex, demanding world that awaits them. By demonstrating and teaching emotional intelligence we set our children up for happy, fulfilling lives by ensuring they have the skills most critical to success.

Let’s take a closer look at the specific strategies parents can employ to build a resilient, emotionally intelligent family.

First, what exactly is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is defined as our ability to identify, understand and manage our emotions and the emotions of others. There are four key competencies involved in emotional intelligence, each involving a number of specific skills.

Skill 1 – Self Awareness

People with self awareness are those who can accurately recognise and describe their feelings. These people know their internal states, preferences, resources and intuition. The self awareness skills are emotional self awareness, accurate self assessment and self confidence.

Skill 2 – Self Management

People who are good at self management are those who can adjust their feelings as an act of will. They are good at managing internal states, impulses and resources. The self management skills are self control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, achievement drive and initiative.

Skill 3 – Social Awareness

People who have good social awareness skills are those who can recognise another’s feelings and respond appropriately. They are aware of others’ feelings, needs and concerns. The social awareness skills are empathy, service orientation and organisational awareness.

Skill 4 – Relationship Management

People who are good at relationship management are those who can persuade and influence others – with integrity. They are adept at inducing desirable responses in others. The social awareness skills are developing others, influence, communication, conflict management, leadership, change catalyst, building bonds, teamwork and collaboration.

Obviously that’s a lot for young children to learn, but it’s actually quite easy to start. Let’s take a look at a few practical strategies for teaching children emotional intelligence…


Help Your Child Identify Feelings

The first step in teaching children emotional intelligence is helping them to identify their feelings. How can they possibly manage their emotions, or others’, until they can identify them?

This can be difficult if your own parents didn’t teach you how to do it. Just start small and keep working on it. Allow your kids to have their own feelings, ask them questions about how they feel and if you need to, help them to articulate the emotions.

When you do, use clarifying statements like, “I can see you’re feeling frustrated and maybe even a little angry because you’re having trouble getting the knots out of your hair. Is that right?” Let the child answer and if you need to, add something like, “I remember how that felt, if you persist you’ll get them. Remember to be gentle and work from the bottom up – it’s easier that way and will hurt less. I’m here if you decide you’d like help.”

Once children are able to identify their feelings they can learn that sometimes they need to act a certain way despite their emotions, for the best interest of everyone involved. Remember that emotional expression is very important, so if your kids need to put their feelings aside for a short time to deal with a situation, give them ample space to express their emotions later at home.

NB: Never, ever tell your children to push their feelings down or away. This is an incredibly unhealthy (and emotionally unintelligent) habit and will eventually lead to the children lashing out or imploding on themselves.


Be Positive and Open

Whenever you interact with your kids, frame things positively. If you need to correct a behaviour, discuss it with them. Don’t yell or lecture – instead remind yourself that your children are learning how to be emotionally and socially intelligent and it takes time.

Engage with the child and gently correct them. Talk about what they did well and discuss what they could have done to consider others’ feelings in the relevant situation. This conversation (had regularly) will help your kids gain some of the self-awareness necessary for emotional intelligence.


Create the Space for Emotional Expression

Even when we can successfully identify and manage our feelings, we need to take the time to express them every now and again. It’s impossible to practice emotional intelligence if we have a build up of emotions we haven’t dealt with.


It’s crucial that we teach our children how to express all of their emotions (including the negative ones) in a warm, safe environment without hurting anyone else. Ensure that you make any emotions your children have okay, even when that’s difficult for you. In most cases, this will mean kids rarely suppress their emotions because they don’t have any reason to. They’ll know they are safe with you and can let it all out without hurting or upsetting someone they love.

Anger can be expressed using any number of methods – hitting pillows or a punching bag, chopping wood, screaming underwater or even smashing plates. We knew a family who would buy old plates from thrift shops. They would all go out in the back yard together, play some loud music, yell and throw the plates at a brick wall. It worked fantastically for them. Find whatever works for your family and encourage the kids to join in. Chances are they’ll find it a lot easier than you will. Just remember that with anger, the vocal component is important.

With kids, expressing sadness usually just means making it okay for them to feel sad or cry. Hold them while they cry if they want you to or let them cuddle their favourite toy. Just remember that if you tell them not to cry you’re essentially saying sadness is not acceptable, so be very careful what you say when you’re attempting to comfort them.

The best way to help kids with fear is to ask them to be descriptive. Fear generally loses its grip when we explore it, so help them do that. Ask questions like, “Where in your body is the fear?”, “What colour is it?”, “How big is it?”, “What does it want to do?” and “What will help you feel better?” Remember that these questions are about the fear itself, not the thing they are afraid of. If you have a child scared of the monster under the bed, asking them what it will do isn’t likely to help.

When you notice your children have an emotion ‘up’, ask them if they need to yell, cry, talk or whatever else they normally do to healthily express themselves. If you stick to this process, before long they’ll be knocking your socks off by informing you when they (or even you!) need some emotional expression time.


Try Role Playing

If your child is having particular difficulty processing an emotion or finds it difficult to empathise with others, try role playing with them. Essentially, you take your child’s part and ask him/her to respond as the other party. This is a great way to encourage empathy and it will often diffuse a tricky situation quickly. Remember to ask your child what they learned from the exercise.


Be Present

Being present with your kids is one of the hardest things to do, simply because it requires time, but it’s absolutely crucial to helping children learn emotional intelligence. Ensure you spend quality time with your children each day, just being present and communicating with them. Don’t allow phones, television or other distractions to interfere with this special time.


Give Specific, Supportive Feedback

Ensure that you always provide supportive feedback that’s specific enough for your children to identify with. This will help them discover that they’re a good person who cares for themselves and others. However, it’s important that you are careful not to just say that – instead, choose your words to illustrate the point so they can come to the conclusion on their own.

For example, “I noticed you were kind to your sister even when she wasn’t being polite to you. I’m impressed that you chose to give her what she needed rather than responding to her negative behaviour. I’m proud of you. How does it feel to know that you can choose to act with patience and kindness even in the face of your sister’s frustration?”


Set a Good Example

Children learn far more from what we do than what we say, so it’s incredibly important we practice emotional intelligence ourselves to set a good example for them. It’s okay to mess it up occasionally as long as we talk openly with our kids about what happened, what we learned and what we plan to do differently next time.

It’s also extremely helpful to take a look at our emotional habits and see what we can improve on so we continue setting the best possible example for our children.

Grab a notepad, a pen and a few minutes to reflect on the following questions…

  • How do you express anger? Is that healthy or could you do better?
  • How do you express sadness? Is that healthy or could you do better?
  • How do you deal with fear? Is that healthy or could you do better?
  • What do you do with your positive emotions – joy, love etc?
  • Do you notice any patterns in your answers above?
  • Do your emotional expression habits trigger any particular responses in your family members? If so, is there anything you should do about that?
  • Which of these old habits can you discard and replace with a new emotionally intelligent habit? How will you do that?
  • What, specifically, do you need to do to improve your emotional intelligence skills so that you set the best possible example for your kids?

Finally, it’s worth sitting down with your significant other and putting some serious thought into the questions below. Combined with the techniques above they’ll help you design a plan for creating a family life that is absolutely extraordinary.

  • What does emotional intelligence mean to you?
  • What would an emotionally intelligent family look like to you?
  • What strategies will you use to help your children learn to be emotionally intelligent?
  • How will you incorporate the practice of emotional intelligence skills into daily family life?
  • When will you enact the plan you detailed above?