Q. Our 5-year-old son has trouble sharing and getting along with other children. When things don't go his way, he'll get mad and cry. We need some advice to help him work on his emotional intelligence.
-- Yuko Collie, St. Petersburg, Fla.
A. With books on the subject prominent on the best-seller lists for months, emotional intelligence has become a national buzzword -- and yet another childhood milestone that parents must worry about.
The backbone of what makes up emotional intelligence is no stranger to parents who have spent any time watching what happens between children whenever two or more get together. One of them won't share, one of them won't know how to join the group, one of them will bully the other.
What is new for parents are two ideas. First, research shows emotional intelligence (or EQ, as the experts have come to call it) may be more important than IQ in determining a child's overall success in later life. Second, the underlying skills that make up emotional intelligence can be taught to children, and in indeed they should be.
"The earlier you deal with EQ in kids, the more you'll be able to influence it," says Lawrence Shapiro, author of "How to Raise a Child with a High EQ: A Parents' Guide to Emotional Intelligence" (HarperCollins, $24).
"And if you teach them EQ skills such as cooperation, sharing and making friends when they're young, they'll be better able to use them as adults," says Shapiro, a child psychologist in Secaucus, N.J.
The most effective way to teach these skills to children, the experts say, is through games.
"Emotions are hard to describe -- they're extraterrestrial for kids," says Denise Chapman Weston, co-author of "Playwise: 365 Fun-Filled Activities for Building Character, Conscience and Emotional Intelligence in Children" (Tarcher/Putnam, $15.95).
Rather than react when a child does something inappropriate such as refusing to share, working on these skills by teaching a child games lets you go in the other direction, says Ms. Weston, who lives in North Attleboro, Mass.
"It gives children insight into situations before they happen," she says. "Games give kids the tools they need to work things out in daily experience."
Many of the games Ms. Weston uses with her own two children revolve around two homemade decks of cards. One deck contains note cards listing each skill or attribute the child possesses, such as "does homework without complaining," "has a friendly smile" or "keeps trying to learn new things." Cards in the second deck each list an emotion the child has experienced or understands.
The cards give the child a visual image of what is often intangible. Ms. Weston suggests adults engage the child in role-playing games, such as meeting new kids at soccer practice or scouts. Before the game, have the child pull cards from the skills deck that he or she might use, such as "friendly smile." Afterward, have the child pull cards from the emotions deck to talk about feelings experienced during the game.
The emotions cards can also help a child learn to talk about what he's feeling.
"If a child explodes and cries, you might say something like: 'I have no idea what's going on with you. Why don't you go pull out your cards and tell me which ones you're feeling?' " Ms. Weston says.
Can you help?
MOM IN BED: "I have a 3-year-old son and I am four months pregnant and will be on bed rest my entire pregnancy," says a reader from Dallas. "I don't want my son to feel that this baby is something bad that happened because Mom can't be up and doing the fun things with him. What should I tell him, and how can I deal with an active child while I'm in bed for so long?"
Child Life is a forum for parents to ask child-rearing questions and share tips with other parents. If you have advice, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2322 Hales Road, Raleigh, N.C. 27608, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org