EQ and Problem-solving Skills

Practical Tips on How To Teach EQ and Problem-solving Skills during Sibling Conflicts

EQ (Emotional Quotient) refers to the ability to:

  • know and managing one’s emotions
  • motivate oneself
  • recognize others’ emotions
  • manage relationships

Can parents teach EQ skills at home?


I always encourage parents to turn challenges into teaching moments.  Sibling arguments provide one such golden opportunity to teach EQ skills.  (This article was featured in my July 2016 Newsletter.)

A typical scenario:

Sam is building a Lego tower. Jack wants to join Sam. Sam refuses, saying Jack is clumsy. Jack feels rejected and hurt, and knocks down Sam’s tower. Sam gets upset and hits Jack. Jack cries.

Well-intentioned parents might…

Often, parents’ first response is “Stop!  Who started it this time?” Then parents go into punishment or scolding.  But notice that both kids have done something inappropriate.  Sam should not have hit Jack, and Jack should not have destroyed Sam’s tower.  Singling one child out for punishment will feel unfair.  Punishing both might stop them for a short while, but you might find yourself and them in the same situation very soon.

A better strategy?  Use this as a golden opportunity to teach EQ!

Mum: “You both look very upset.” (Naming emotions) “What just happened?” (Asked in an understanding manner.  Modeling empathy and showing an interest in both kids’ experiences.) 

Jack: “Sam hit me.”

Sam: “Jack knocked down my tower.  He did it on purpose.”

Mum: “OK.  Our family rule is no hitting (reiterate family rules), and no rude, hurtful behavior (emphasize family values).”

Mum: “But I know you two are upset for a reason.  Tell me what happened.”

Sam: “I was building a tower.  It was very tall.  Like this tall.  Jack knocked it down.  On purpose.”

Jack: “I wanted to play too.  Sam wouldn’t let me.”

Mum: “Hold on Jack.  Wait for your turn. I am talking to Sam now. (Setting limits, maintaining order, and modeling good manners for you children.)

Mum: “So, Sam, you were building a tall tower, like this tall, and Jack knocked it down.  You were upset and so you hit him. (Connecting emotion with behavior for your child.) Is that right?”

Sam: “Yeah.”

Mum: “OK, I see. Jack, what happened?”

Jack: “I wanted to play too.  Sam said I was clumsy and wouldn’t let me play.”

Mum: “So you were disappointed (expanding emotional vocabulary) that Sam wouldn’t let you play, and you were hurt (expanding emotional vocabulary) that he said you were clumsy, and so you knocked down his tower.  Is that right?”

Now, parents can move onto creative problem-solving skills.

Mum: “I see.  So Sam doesn’t want his tower to be knocked down by Jack, and Jack wants to be included. (Mum communicates she gets what her kids want, which communicates empathy and understanding.)  I see why you would want that (Mum validates her kids’ needs).  I wonder what we can do so you both get what you want. (Mum encourages creative problem solving in her kids.)

Sam might say: “Jack needs to ask me for permission first. And then I’ll tell Jack where to go and what to do.”

Mum: “What a good start!  Jack, what do you think?”

If your children are too young to come up with ideas, parents can provide some prompts along these lines:

“Sam, what can Jack do to avoid knocking down your tower?”

“Jack, what can you do to protect Sam’s tower so that he will want to include you in his play?”

Remember to model compassion, flexibility, and creativity yourself!

More on sibling relationships:

Sibling argument: Parents’ intervention scripts

The psychology of “selfishness” and sibling competition