Ways to build emotional intelligence in your family

Jun 16, 2020 | Blog Articles

There really is no such thing as a perfect family. As the mother of children who now have their own families, I look back and can think of ways I might have done things differently but I know that I did my best given my life’s experiences and upbringing.

As parents we worry about so many things that it’s easy to miss what’s really important.

The greatest gift you can give yourself, your children, your family and your community is the gift of your own good physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. — Petrea King

By being a living demonstration of how to care for these various aspects of yourself, you teach your children how to do the same for themselves.

We all sometimes struggle to express ourselves without reverting back to the 4, 5 or 6 year old we once were. We say things like,

“I didn’t do it”, “It wasn’t my fault”, “You always/never/should..”

when what we really want to say is how we feel.

“I feel sad, I feel angry, I feel alone”,

but expressing those feelings can be so very difficult.

Children model themselves on what they see and experience around them. They are far more influenced by what they see and feel than what you might be telling them. In an ideal world, our values underpin our behaviours. It follows then, that our words and actions are congruent with the values we want to instil in our children.


From their earliest years, children are developing interpersonal relationships through negotiation and by engaging with others. Children, from around 3 years of age, will take to the Mansion of Emotion very easily and it can make a profound and positive difference in how they deal with their feelings for the rest of their lives.

  • Use a whiteboard, the fridge door and a whiteboard marker or a piece of paper to draw up a house divided into at least 9 ‘rooms’.
  • You can tell a child that inside their head and body there is a mansion of emotion. There are as many rooms in the mansion as they have feelings.
  • There is a fear room, a happy room, a tired room, a sad room, a grumpy room, a regret room or whatever feelings your child can relate to.
  • You can write the name of the feeling, one into each of the rectangles, in the mansion of emotion.
  • For very young children you might want to cut out and laminate faces of animals that express a wide range of feelings.
  • You can ask a young child which animal looks like how they feel. For instance, if a child picks a picture of a lion snarling, then you could stick the picture on the rectangle named ‘grumpy’. This teaches young children some emotional literacy.
  • They gradually learn to name the feelings that they are having.
  • You can also ask a child where they are feeling the feeling in their body. They may tell you that their head feels like it’s going to burst, their tummy feels sick, their chest or shoulders feel tight, their hands become fists or wherever it is they might be feeling the feeling in their body.


  • You can also ask a child how strongly they are feeling that feeling on a scale of 0 – 10.
  • For example,  “So you’re feeling grumpy and you can feel that your tummy feels sick, your head feels like it’s going to burst, your chest feels tight. On a scale of 0 – 10, how grumpy are you feeling?”
  • Most adults and children can tell you exactly how strong the feeling is for them. If it’s a 3 on the ‘grumpy scale’ then the child can learn how to self-manage themselves by perhaps doing some deep breathing.
  • If they feel that they are a 10 on the grumpy scale, then perhaps going for a run to the back fence or a tree – 5 times! – may help discharge the energy or kicking a cardboard box around the backyard might help them to let off steam in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone or anything – except the box!

A family that is able to find words to express their feelings builds resilience in each and every family member and in the family unit.

You can learn more about the Mansion of Emotion and other ways to build emotional intelligence in our families on our interactive online program Building Resilient Families.

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