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Fostering Emotional Intelligence in Early Childhood: A Comprehensive Guide from The Goddard School of Wall


In the landscape of child development, emotional intelligence (EI) stands out as a cornerstone for building healthy, resilient individuals. Emotional intelligence, the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically, is as critical as intellectual intelligence (IQ) for success in life. This comprehensive guide from The Goddard School of Wall explores in-depth techniques for teaching preschoolers—children typically aged three to five years—to recognize, understand, and manage their emotions effectively.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence

The Goddard School of Wall understands that emotional intelligence encompasses several key skills:

  • Self-awareness: Recognizing one’s own emotions and their impact.
  • Self-regulation: Managing or adjusting one’s emotions to adapt to situations.
  • Motivation: Harnessing emotions to achieve goals.
  • Empathy: Understanding the feelings of others.
  • Social skills: Managing relationships to move people in desired directions.

For preschoolers, the journey into emotional intelligence begins with the foundational skills of self-awareness and self-regulation, which lay the groundwork for developing empathy, motivation, and advanced social skills as they grow.

Techniques for Fostering EI in Preschoolers

• Naming and Understanding Emotions
Teaching children to identify and articulate their feelings is a pivotal first step. The Goddard School of Wall emphasizes that this can be achieved through regular conversations that encourage children to express their emotions verbally. Tools such as emotion charts with faces depicting different feelings can help children who are not yet fully verbal to point out what they are feeling. Encouraging the use of “I feel” statements allows children to begin to tie their emotions to their verbal expressions, fostering self-awareness.

• Artistic Expression of Emotions
Many young children find it easier to express complex emotions through art or play. Providing children with crayons, markers, and paper and asking them to draw how they feel offers them an alternative way to express emotions they might not yet have the words for. The Goddard School of Wall explains how role-playing with dolls or action figures can help children externalize and manage their emotions through narrative play.

• Developing Empathy through Role-Playing and Storytelling
Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is a crucial component of EI. The Goddard School of Wall emphasizes that preschoolers can learn empathy by engaging in role-playing activities or through storytelling. Role-playing allows children to step into another’s shoes, while stories can introduce children to a wide range of emotional experiences and perspectives, fostering a deeper understanding and empathy for others.

• Teaching Emotion Regulation Strategies
Emotion regulation is about managing and responding to an emotional experience in an appropriate manner. Techniques such as deep breathing, counting to ten, or using words to express feelings can help children learn to control their emotional responses. It’s also beneficial to teach children that it’s okay to take a moment to themselves or to ask for help from an adult when they’re feeling overwhelmed.

“Working as a Pre-K teacher for over twenty-five years, I have experienced children having a difficult time managing their emotions. One way I found soothing for children to be able to discuss feelings is to ask the child to take a walk, breathe, and talk about the situation. This allows the child to express how he/she is feeling through words,” says Tara Sanborn, Director of Education.

• The Power of Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement plays a significant role in encouraging desired behaviors. When children successfully identify, express, or manage their emotions in a healthy way, praise or a small reward can motivate them to continue practicing these skills. The Goddard School of Wall believes this reinforcement helps solidify the connection between the behavior and the positive outcome.

• Modeling Emotional Intelligence
Children are keen observers and often mimic the behavior of adults around them. By modeling healthy emotional expression and regulation, adults can provide a powerful example for children to follow. This includes showing how to express feelings in a constructive way, navigate conflicts calmly, and offer empathy and support to others.

According to Tara Sanborn, Director of Education, “Children need to be heard by their peers. A constructive way I used to resolve conflict amongst peers was to offer “Emotional chairs”. The children involved would hold a toy, choose a chair in the circle and express their feelings to their peers. When they were done, they passed the toy to the next child involved in the conflict.”

• Engaging with Emotional Stories
Books that focus on emotional experiences and challenges can be an excellent tool for discussing emotions. Reading together and discussing how characters might feel and why they feel that way helps children better to understand their own emotions and the emotions of others. The Goddard School of Wall believes this can also be an opportunity to explore different ways of handling difficult feelings and situations.

• Encouraging Social Interaction
Interacting with peers is another way children learn about emotions and how to manage them in social contexts. The Goddard School of Wall explains that through play, children learn to negotiate, cooperate, and resolve conflicts. Structured activities, such as team sports or group projects, as well as unstructured playtime, are valuable for developing social skills and empathy.

“Through all my years of teaching, my favorite lesson involved a story and teamwork. I encouraged each group to discuss the story first, then together come up with their own ending for the story I read and together draw a picture of the ending they chose. It was wonderful to see how they came together, expressed their ideas to their peers, and laughed together,” says Tara Sanborn, Director of Education.

Emotional intelligence is a foundational aspect of child development that influences a child’s ability to navigate the complexities of social interactions and personal growth throughout their life. The Goddard School of Wall emphasizes that by implementing the techniques outlined in this guide, parents, educators, and caregivers can play a pivotal role in fostering emotional intelligence in preschoolers. From naming emotions and artistic expression to modeling emotional intelligence and encouraging social interaction, each strategy contributes to the holistic development of the child, preparing them for a future of emotional and social success. This comprehensive approach not only enhances the child’s immediate well-being but also lays the groundwork for their long-term emotional health and happiness.


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