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Sunday, August 12, 2018

7 Ways That Play Develops Emotional Intelligence in Children

Photo by Steve Wilson (Flickr)

My girls return to school soon, and while we're busy buying school supplies and thinking about classes, we're also making time to play and build their emotional intelligence. With emotional intelligence, kids learn to recognize their feelings, discern the source of their emotions, and understand how to handle them. They can then use this intelligence to enhance relationships, succeed in social situations, negotiate and collaborate with others, and lead with confidence. We can help our kids cultivate emotional intelligence in seven ways through play and recess.

Play Encourages Kids to Recognize Emotions

I vividly remember the afternoon years ago when I realized my girls needed help labeling their emotions. As preschoolers, they got into a pinching match over a toy and even yelled that they hated each other. That day, I vowed to help my girls recognize, name, and take ownership of their emotions, and we still practice this skill today as we play. When I notice that one of my girls feels angry, sad, or frustrated because she's not winning a game or has to wait her turn for the slide, we pause and talk about it. We also identify emotions as we play charades, color pictures, and discuss our storytime book illustrations.

Play Improves Self-Regulation

The way kids feel at home on a calm Sunday morning is different than how they feel when they take a big test at school or score a goal on the soccer field. My girls and I can even experience different emotions, including contentment, frustration, and calm, during a single hike. To process and handle these normal emotional changes in positive ways, my kids need self-regulation tools, which is why we practice yoga, use fidget toys, and make time for physical play every day.

Play Encourages Self-Expression

When kids can't express their emotions, they may throw tantrums, get quiet, or run away. To encourage self-expression, my girls and I talk about emotions as we play basketball, build with blocks, and mold play dough. The physical activity and conversation teach my kids to embrace and express their emotions appropriately.

Play Prompts Empathy

Give our kids opportunities for pretend play and they discover empathy, or what it's like to live in someone else's shoes. My girls have learned to see life from a different perspective and acknowledge that other people have feelings as they play dress-up, school, and army.

Play Develops Social and Communication Skills

My younger daughter met a new friend this summer who talks a lot. I'm proud of my girl for listening, and I've also watched her speak up when she has something important to say. These communication skills are part of emotional intelligence and help our kids negotiate, empathize, and lead.

Play Facilitates Understanding and Processing of Tough Emotions

All humans experience scary or unpleasant emotions like anger, fear, and worry, but our kids can feel powerless or out of control when they don't understand or can't process these feelings. Play provides kids with an outlet for emotions, and they can process how they feel as they run, jump, and create. My girls and I also role-play scenarios that may be potentially challenging, and we play games like Simon Says to reinforce ways we can respond properly when we feel angry, afraid, or anxious.

Play Provides Opportunities to Model Emotional Intelligence

Modeling shows my girls that they, too, can be comfortable talking about how they feel, and it gives them feedback and helpful tools for handling their emotions properly. For these reasons, I make an effort to tell my girls when I feel content after a long walk, sad because rainy weather changes our play date plans, or scared about trying a new game, and we talk about triggers and constructive ways we can handle feelings.

Emotional intelligence remains an important skill our kids can develop in seven ways through play and recess. How do you cultivate emotional intelligence in your kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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