In high school, academics take center stage and it’s easy to forget that teens need to continue to grow and develop their emotional intelligence, too. Teens with a high degree of emotional intelligence are better able to control their emotions and behavior when things don’t go their way. This in turn makes them happier, more self-confident, and more respectful of others. Not surprisingly, students with a high EQ (or emotional quotient) tend to do better in school. They pay attention, take in information, stay motivated, and get along with teachers and classmates. Nurture your teen’s emotional development with these conversation starters and games about feelings and empathy.
Ask your teen “What would you do if …?”
On family car rides or at the dinner table, the “What would you do if …?” game gets your teen thinking about ways to respond to different situations. Ask questions that encourage them to behave with more emotional smarts: “What would you do if you saw someone being bullied at school? Or if I blamed you for something you didn’t do?” Asking these kinds of questions when emotions aren’t running high gives your child a chance to come up with ideas on how to best respond — and for you to offer some ideas of your own.
Books and movies present ideal opportunities to talk with teens about emotions and behavior. If you and your teen have read the same book — for example, The Hunger Games — use these fictional characters to have a conversation. Talk about a character’s motives and intentions. Ask your child, “What do you think he’s feeling?” and “Why do you think he did that?”
Similarly, after watching a movie together, ask your child why someone was angry, frustrated, sad, or excited. These conversations help kids get used to thinking and talking about why people behave the way they do and how they might have responded differently. Talking about fictional characters makes it that much easier for teens to be emotionally fluent when discussing their own emotions — which is the whole idea.
Not only can you use stories as a launching pad to discuss feelings, you can get books that address feelings directly. For preadolescents and teens, anger is one of the most difficult emotions of all. A great book to help them understand — and tame — unruly emotions is Hot Stones and Funny Bones: Teens Helping Teens Cope With Stress and Anger. Teenagers talk about their own ways to gain self-esteem, handle stress, and deal with anger. Read it together, or just hand it to your child to learn helpful tips on coping with the emotional roller coaster of the preteen and teen years.
There’s also Hot Stuff to Chill Out: The Anger Management Book. Among other tips, kids will learn to smile for a few seconds when they feel angry. It works! They can’t help but feel better.
“Sounds like …”
San Francisco-based social skills expert Dominique Baudry says charades is the perfect game for families to learn about and safely express a range of emotions. To play charades: A person draws a slip of paper from a container and silently reads the word written there. Then he or she acts it out for others to guess what it is. You can play in teams — a team wins when one person guesses correctly in a set amount of time.
“It works because anything that removes language and looks at facial and body language helps teach about emotions," says Baudry. “Make up your own categories. Things at a birthday party. Things you can do with your mouth. Animals. Sports.” Your imagination is the limit.
Give everyone a second chance
Admit it. When parents — and kids — get angry enough, they yell. Angry outbursts make everyone in the family feel terrible and usually solve nothing. Childhood communication and social skills coach Ellen Pritchard Dodge recommends that all family members should be allowed a chance to do it over when they lose their cool.
“Anyone in the family is allowed to say, ‘That came out really mean. I’m going to do a do-over. Here’s what I wanted to say.’” Pritchard Dodge explains that do-overs allow kids and grown-ups a way to gain more self-awareness by practicing less hurtful ways of expressing difficult emotions. “Allowing for do-overs let the whole family help one another try again in a kinder, better way," she says. "It’s also a very kind way to cut each other some slack.”
Play the “Maybe” game
Understanding why others behave the way they do — or empathy — is an essential EQ skill. To practice your empathy skills, play the “Maybe” game. See someone flare up with a bad case of road rage? Everyone in the car can have a shot at guessing why that person is feeling so badly. “Maybe she is late for work. ” “Maybe her doctor called and had really bad news.” “Maybe she’s an extraterrestrial and can’t stand the way earthlings drive.” It doesn’t have to be serious. Sometimes talking and learning about emotions can — and should — be fun!
And when someone in the house is cranky, the “Maybe” game works wonders for figuring out the reason behind negative behaviors. “Maybe you’re so mad about your homework because you need something to eat first.” “Maybe you’re yelling because I didn’t clean up the dishes when you asked.”