Help your baby develop emotional intelligence

Dear Tunester, develop emotional intelligence by being your baby’s first “therapist”.

Have you ever been to therapy? If you have then you know that one of the things they try to do is to help you make sense of how you behave and why you do what you do.  Often we’re playing out patterns of behavior that we developed in our past, and undersanding how they serve us, or once served us in some way, can help us move beyond them and develop new ways of being.

Guess what. YOU can do the same for your baby. The more you help your child make sense of their reactions and big emotions the more emotionally intelligent they’ll be. 

Emotional Intelligence is what will help them know how to act in a new group, how to make a new friend, how to have strong relationships, and how to be aware of and control their own emotions. 

So how can you give a mini therapy session to your baby that will help calm them in the moment and will develop their EI? 

By doing what I call CONNECTING THE DOTS.

Connecting the dots helps your child understand what led to their tantrum or melt dow and gives them insight into their own emotional process.

How to help your baby Connect the Dots:

When babies (and kids, and adults,) have meltdowns it’s usually not just about the last thing that happened to them.  There is often a sequence of events that led to the final straw. Connecting the dots is pointing out to your baby the hitches that happened along the way that might have upset them so that they understand what led to the final breakdown.

For younger babies you’ll connect the dots of one or two events. For bigger babies who’s memory is more developed and who have more complex emotions you’ll connect more dots.

Here are two examples from my home when my kids were babies:

Example 1:

My daughter was about 9 months when she hit her head on the faucet in the bath one day. She immediately started to scream and held her hands up to be taken out.

She had only just gotten into the bath so I wasn’t keen on pulling her out right away. So after consoling her I wanted to see if she could push through if I helped her connect the dots.

I said – “You were playing and then you slipped and hit your head on this faucet.”  I mimed what I was saying, pointing to the faucet and giving myself a little hit on the head.  Then I pretended to cry and said “that really hurt you.”

You know how sometimes you can almost see your baby’s brain working? It was one of those moments. She stopped, looked back at the faucet, and touched her head. 

Then, since she didn’t have words yet, she told the story in her own way. She pointed to the faucet,brought her head closed to it, and gave her head a bonk. 

I said – “that’s right. You hit your head and it hurt.” Then she mimed it a few more times. 

And then miraculously, she went back to playing in the bath. Once she had made sense of her experience, and had processed it in her own way, she was ready to move on. 

As our babies grow they’ll have more complicated emotions often caused by multiple events. They’ll need more help connecting the dots.

Example 2:

When my son was a toddler he hit his sister one night. In my anger I instinctually asked him – “Why did you do that?” “You!” he said. “What do you mean?” I said. He sat still and finally said: “you got dressed!”

I stopped and took a moment to follow the sequence of events as he had experienced them and it dawned on me. Once I had connected the dots for myself I did it for him (slowly and with emphasis):

“You were angry when I told you we were going out tonight. You and I played ball but then you got upset because I stopped the game and went to get dressed. You were angry at me for leaving you tonight and for leaving the game. And then you hurt your sister who is smaller and can’t hurt you back. But really you were angry at me.”

When I finished he took a big breath. I always know I’ve reached them when they sigh big.

The more we can help our kids connect the dots now the more they’ll be able to do it for themselves as they mature. And that will help them develop self awareness about their own patterns and processes.

Does that mean they won’t be on that therapy couch down the road? Probably not. But they’ll have a good head start to understanding how their dots connect.

For more on how to respond to the three different types of tantrums, check out this post.

Do you help your baby connect the dots to develop their emotional intelligence? How does it look?


Do you have a friend who needs some encouragement in helping her baby develop EI? Send her this post and tell her to sign up for future Tuesday Tune Ins.