Helping Students Develop Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a broad term that covers several concepts relating to a person’s ability to realize their own emotions plus recognize how another person is feeling. There are many benefits to developing emotional intelligence such as an increased awareness of how emotions affect and guide behavior, greater sense of empathy and the ability to adjust emotions to varying situations.

In terms of elementary school students, how important is it for a child to work on his or her emotional intelligence? Furthermore, how can elementary teachers help foster their students’ emotional growth?

First, the importance of a healthy emotional intelligence cannot be overstated. Even with elementary students, it’s never too early to help them recognize and build skills like resilience, anger management, healthy negotiating, etc. And, teachers are in a great position to weave emotional intelligence practice into everyday classroom work.

Emotional Intelligence Activities

Consider trying the following activities that are designed to help kids recognize and react appropriately to emotions:

  1. Identify emotions. Spend some time describing different feelings and ask the students to share a story about when they felt a specific emotion. Obviously, it’s easy for kids to recognize happiness and sadness in themselves or others. But, do elementary students understand when someone is feeling envious or left out? Kids may attribute meanness to a friend’s jealous feelings, so it’s helpful to name and define as many emotions as possible. When sharing stories about emotions and learning their meanings, kids can up their emotional intelligence by being able to distinguish between jealousy and meanness, anger and frustration, etc.


  1. Walk in someone’s shoes. As a class, come up with a list of questions that start with “How would you feel if…” and complete the sentences with things like “no one wanted to sit by you at lunch,” or “you had to play by yourself at recess.” Pair the kids up and have them ask these questions to each other and answer them. Kids can help develop empathy by imagining themselves in these types of situations.


  1. Work it out. Resiliency and problem-solving are components of well-developed emotional intelligence. Research RULER or Toolbox to find worksheets that illustrate a specific problem that an elementary school student may experience. For example, two kids want to use the classroom computer or iPad at the same time. How can the students find a solution? The worksheet guides the kids toward finding acceptable methods to resolving the conflict.


Try to Foster Good Social Skills

Remember, students are somewhat forced to be social at school and they must navigate daily between academic work and social negotiations. Therefore, an elementary classroom is an obvious starting point for introducing kids to the concept of building up emotional intelligence. Group projects, whether academic or social in nature, are always a good strategy for helping kids learn to read other people and work together.

When deciding whether or not to include emotional intelligence content to your classroom, think about how solid social and emotional skills have the potential to help a child succeed in life. In fact, when a student has the opportunity to develop a healthy emotional intelligence, the by-products such as empathy and the ability to read other people’s emotions may also have a significant impact on academic success.