Developing Our Own Emotional Intelligence: Nurturing the Hearts and Minds of the Next Generation

emotional intelligence social emotional learning youth development Jan 24, 2024

Today marks another step in the processing of my journey, delving into the depths to identify my desires and true calling. Looking back, I did not initially recognize it as a calling; it was merely something I cared deeply about—something that truly mattered. My journey into adulthood, marked by uncertainty about my career path, ultimately led me to a profound realization: the power and importance of teaching emotional intelligence (EQ) to adults for the sake of our children and youth.

Growing up, watching my nieces and nephews navigate the world ignited a desire to contribute to their growth. However, my journey into early adulthood was marked by uncertainty about my career path. The conventional options like teaching or nursing did not inspire me. What did inspire me was my work in after-school and camp programs throughout my teenage years and young adulthood. It was not until my master's program that I realized this was a profession, despite the absence of established college tracks for youth development or after-school programming at that time.

In my master's program for human services, I specialized in the development of young children, particularly during their school-age years. It became my mission not only to obtain a master's in human services but also to focus my studies on creating environments where children could be safe, emotionally supported, and fully self-expressed.

Reflecting on this journey, I am compelled to share my real-life story. It is a journey that takes me back to my roots as a young Latina girl in Harlem, New York, navigating life through my unique perspective. I realized that the adults around me played a crucial role in my emotional and physical well-being, yet, at times, I did not feel safe or trust them to protect me.

My mother, grandmother, and siblings migrated to Harlem, New York, for a better life. My mom placed a high value on education, instilling the belief that academic success was not an option but a necessity, given her struggles. This belief was deeply ingrained in me as she worked tirelessly, often juggling multiple jobs as a seamstress to make ends meet.

Despite the emphasis on education, my early academic experiences were marked by challenges. A learning disability in writing, combined with constant comparisons to my twin sister's academic achievements, shaped my self-perception negatively. The struggle with feelings of inadequacy persisted through institutional experiences that reinforced a sense of exclusion.

In middle school, the division into special programs for the gifted and talented created an environment of perceived intelligence levels, contributing to a sense of not being enough. By ninth grade, I defied expectations, but the internalized feeling of inadequacy persisted, leading to a pervasive sense of impostor syndrome in adulthood.

This journey through the intricacies of my academic experiences is more than a personal account; it is a call to understand the profound impact adults, institutions, and societal expectations can have on a child's self-perception. The narratives we create about ourselves during childhood shape the lens through which we view the world and influence our values and sense of worthiness.

As I share these deeply personal stories, my aim is to shed light on the complexities our children face and the lasting impact of their self-perceptions. By understanding these nuances, we can collectively work towards fostering environments that empower children to believe in their worthiness and potential.

For me, is not just a narrative; it is a journey towards healing and self-discovery, urging us all to reconsider the profound impact our words and actions have on the next generation. It serves as a testament to the transformative power of emotional intelligence in shaping resilient, self-assured, and compassionate individuals. Now, let's explore effective strategies and methods for teaching emotional intelligence to children and youth.


Before we embark on the journey of imparting emotional intelligence to children and youth, it's essential to acknowledge that teaching EQ begins with cultivating it within ourselves. Our ability to model emotional intelligence provides a strong foundation for children to understand and practice it in their own lives. Here are some strategies for developing our own emotional intelligence:

Self-Reflection and Awareness:

  1. Engage in regular self-reflection to identify and understand your own emotions. Cultivate mindfulness practices to stay present and aware of your emotional state in various situations.
  2. Empathy Building: Actively listen to others and try to understand their perspectives. Put yourself in others' shoes to develop a deeper sense of empathy.
  3. Emotional Regulation: Learn to manage your own emotions constructively, demonstrating healthy coping mechanisms. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or exercise.
  4. Social Skills Enhancement: Work on improving your communication and interpersonal skills. Foster positive relationships by being open, approachable, and collaborative.
  5. Continuous Learning: Stay curious and open to learning about emotional intelligence concepts. Read books, attend workshops, or participate in training programs focused on EQ development.



Strategies for Teaching Emotional Intelligence to Children and Youth:

Now that we've laid the groundwork for our own emotional intelligence, let's explore effective strategies for imparting these essential skills to the younger generation:

  1. Incorporate Emotional Vocabulary: Introduce a wide range of emotions and teach children to express and label their feelings. Encourage the use of descriptive words to articulate emotions accurately.
  2. Create a Safe and Inclusive Environment: Foster an atmosphere where children feel safe expressing their emotions without judgment. Promote inclusivity and respect for diverse emotional experiences.
  3. Model Positive Conflict Resolution: Demonstrate healthy conflict resolution strategies, emphasizing compromise and active listening. Encourage children to discuss conflicts openly and find mutually beneficial solutions on their own.
  4. Emotion Recognition Activities: Utilize games, stories, or art activities to help children recognize emotions in themselves and others. Engage in role-playing scenarios that mimic real-life emotional situations.
  5. Teach Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Introduce mindfulness exercises to help children stay present and manage stress. Guided meditation or simple breathing exercises can be effective tools for emotional regulation.
  6. Promote Empathy through Storytelling: Share stories that highlight characters experiencing various emotions. Discuss the characters' feelings and ask open-ended questions to prompt empathy and perspective-taking.
  7. Encourage Emotional Expression: Provide avenues for creative expression, such as journaling, drawing, or drama, to help children articulate their emotions. Celebrate and validate their expressions, fostering a positive emotional environment.
  8. Involve Families in Emotional Learning: Collaborate with parents and caregivers to reinforce emotional intelligence concepts at home. Provide resources and workshops to support families in promoting EQ development.


Returning to my personal narrative, these strategies have been instrumental in my own journey. Through self-reflection and continuous learning, I've been able to model emotional intelligence for the children and adults I influence. Incorporating emotional vocabulary, creating a safe space, and promoting empathy have become integral parts of my approach, inspired by my own experiences and the desire to empower young minds.

Teaching emotional intelligence to children and youth is a transformative endeavor that begins with our commitment to developing our own EQ. By fostering self-awareness, empathy, and positive social skills within us, we lay the groundwork for a generation equipped to navigate the complexities of emotions. Through intentional strategies and genuine care, we can contribute to the emotional well-being and resilience of the next generation, empowering them to lead fulfilling and emotionally intelligent lives.


SONIA M. TOLEDO, PhD, founded Dignity of Children® in 2008 to develop children and youth holistically and reduce education inequality. She has a PhD in education and 25-plus years of experience building quality after-school programs. She focuses on emotional intelligence training, youth development, and organizational culture change. Dignity of Children® serves after-school programs nationally, providing exceptional child and youth development training programs.

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