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Home » How To Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children: Lael Stone (Transcript)

How To Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children: Lael Stone (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Lael Stone’s talk titled “How To Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children” at TEDxDocklands conference.

Educator and counselor Lael Stone’s talk, “How To Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children,” emphasizes the importance of understanding and responding to children’s emotions with empathy and compassion, rather than dismissal or punishment. She highlights the long-term impact of childhood emotional experiences on adult mental health, citing the need for emotional literacy in both parenting and educational systems.

Stone discusses three learned responses to emotions—repression, aggression, and expression—and advocates for fostering environments where expression is encouraged. Through personal anecdotes, including a touching story about her daughters, Stone illustrates how children learn emotional intelligence primarily through modeling by adults. She introduces Woodline Primary School, an initiative she co-founded, which integrates emotional well-being into its curriculum, aiming to cultivate compassionate, critical-thinking, and emotionally intelligent learners.

Stone argues that prioritizing emotional intelligence (EQ) over intellectual quotient (IQ) can lead to a more understanding and empathetic society. Her talk concludes with a call to prioritize internal emotional landscapes to better navigate the external world, underscoring the profound impact of nurturing emotional intelligence from a young age.

Listen to the audio version here:


Just for a moment, what I’d like you to do is imagine that you’re four years old. You’re on the ground, building a tower, and you’re really proud of this tower that you’re building. In the next minute, a kid comes running along, kicks over your tower, and you are outraged. You feel these feelings bubble inside you of hurt, panic, frustration, and helplessness. Just in that moment, an adult comes in close, gets down low, and says, “Honey, what happened?”

You see in their eyes there’s compassion. You feel that their body’s calm and regulated, and then all those feelings come bubbling out: frustration, anger, helplessness. This adult goes, “Oh, yeah, tell me all about it.” They don’t try and fix it; they don’t say to you, “Don’t worry, you can build another one.” They just let you feel all that you’re feeling, and then they open their arms, and you snuggle in, take another deep breath, and then you feel better. Then, you get back to building your tower.

Remembering Childhood Emotions

Now, I’d like to see if you can remember what it was like when you were four years old. Perhaps at a time when you felt angry, sad, scared, or you didn’t understand what was going on, and how did the adults in your life respond to you? If you were lucky, the adults in your life would have given you lots of space to express how you feel, to listen to those worries and hurts, not try and fix what was going on.

But to the majority of people, we had the opposite, which is that we would have been told, “Stop being so stupid. You don’t need to cry.” You might have been sent to your room, to the corner. You might have even been hit for making a mistake.

Childhood and Mental Health

Now, why am I talking about children and feelings? Because I want to talk about mental health. Our current mental health landscape sees a steady increase in psychological distress. We see that one in eight Australians suffers from some form of anxiety disorder, and one in ten Australians with depression. And even though we are doing better at understanding things like mindfulness, empathy, compassion, resilience, and vulnerability, I see that the increasing rates of distress in adults is deeply rooted in the imprints we received as children around how to express feelings and emotions.

Now it would be very easy to blame our parents for what they did or didn’t do, but our parents were doing the best job they knew how. They were either doing what was done to them, or perhaps they swung so far in the other direction and said, “I’m going to do it the exact opposite.” I see that the issue lies really in the lack of emotional literacy that we have in our culture.

We don’t teach parents how to respond to children’s feelings and emotions with empathy and compassion. We don’t teach it in our kindergartens; we don’t teach it in our schools. Somehow, we still value IQ far more than we value EQ. I wonder if from the beginning we were told that childhood defines adult mental health, whether we would take greater care to nurture a child’s soul.

Learning Emotional Responses

Now, my work over the last 16 years with families around attachment, trauma, and connection has shown me that there’s usually three ways that we learn as kids to deal with feelings and emotions. The first one is repression, which means that as a child, if you learnt that it wasn’t safe to express your feelings, perhaps you got shut down, you were told to stop crying, perhaps you were given a look that made you draw everything inside.

Then, you were going to have to find a way to cope with all those feelings and emotions, and for most people, they learn to repress them. They push them down deep; most of the time, they’re disassociated. The impact of that on a child is that those feelings stay there, and then as adults, those feelings can turn up again. When life throws us a curveball that’s got similar themes to stuff that happened when we were a kid, those same feelings come up, but this time, our repression mechanisms look like another glass of wine that we drink, hours mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, or making yourself so busy at work that you don’t actually have time to feel.

Aggression and Expression

The other thing that we might learn to do is move into aggression, which means that as a child, if we felt really powerless, if we felt scared, if we grew up in an authoritarian environment where we didn’t have a voice, where we couldn’t say how we felt, then those feelings again would bubble inside us. At the point where they would tip over when we often felt frightened or threatened, they would come out in aggression, in rage, in loud words.

Sometimes, you might have been labelled as naughty, too much, or trouble, when really all you were doing was responding to your environment. As adults, those aggression tendencies turn up in bullying behavior, in harsh critical thoughts about ourselves and others, they turn up as violence.

Then, the third thing that we learn to do is expression, which means that if we grew up with an imprint that said, “Feelings are welcome; it’s okay for you to express how you are. I will accept all of you, the happy bits, the sad bits, the joyous bits, the bits that are angry. All of you is welcome; I’m not going to try and fix, I’m just going to hold.”

Well, then, what happens as adults when things feel hard, we reach for our journal, write down our thoughts, we call a friend and say, “Hey, can you listen to me?” We go for a run, we do some yoga, we speak to our therapist, and we find a way to lean into the feelings, we feel them, and then we let them go.

Parenting with Emotional Intelligence

Now, I am a mum to three big, beautiful teenagers, and when I first became a parent, like I’m sure many of you here, as a first-time parent, you have absolutely no clue what you’re doing. When it came to understanding feelings and emotions, my game plan was going to be, “I’ll just keep them happy all the time,” right? Because it’s really easy to keep kids happy all the time.

And as any of you know who have kids, that’s a ridiculous thing to do; it is impossible, ridiculous, and it’s incredibly exhausting trying to keep people happy all the time. So, I learned pretty soon that that wasn’t actually going to work, and I needed to find a way to help my children thrive emotionally and also create harmony in our homes.

So, I was lucky enough to understand and study trauma, and I began to see that what we need as humans is a safe place to unpack all of who we are. We need boundaries and holding, but we also need empathy and compassion for all those big feelings that rise within. So, instead of trying to fix my kids’ problems, instead of trying to make them happy all the time, I just got down low and said, “Tell me all about it,” and I just listened.

Sometimes it was tears, sometimes it was rage; there was a lot of complaining that happened, but every time, my only job was to sit there and just hold for them. And what I began to see was this incredible emotional intelligence developing in my children.

A Powerful Realization

Now, I think the time where I realized that this was incredibly powerful was one evening when I was making dinner. I had to go and teach a class, so I’m doing the hustle that most parents do where you’re trying to make dinner quickly because I’m about to get out the door. And my youngest daughter, who was five at the time, comes into the kitchen and she’s looking not happy, and I could see that she’s got some feelings on board.

And I’m like, “Ah, I’ve got to do the dinner; I’ve got to get out the door.” And I actually turned to her and said, “Honey, do you think you could hold onto your feelings for a few hours?” Which, of course, as you can imagine, she just looked at me like, “Are you kidding?” And then, at that moment, my middle daughter, who was ten, walked into the room and she said, “I’ll listen to her feelings.”

And I’m like, “Okay.” So my ten-year-old takes the five-year-old into the bedroom, and I’m thinking, “I’m going to be late for work; I need to see what happens here.” And I’m standing outside the door, and this is what I’m hearing: I’m hearing my ten-year-old say, “Tell me all about it.”

And then the five-year-old starts crying and she starts complaining about all the things that had happened at kinder, and the ten-year-old’s going, “Oh, that’s hard. What else?” And then there’s more complaining, and then there’s more tears, and then there’s giggles, and then there’s laughter. And then they come out of the room, and I see my ten-year-old, and I say to her, “Honey, how was that for you?” And she looked at me and said, “Well, mama, I just did to her what you do for me.” And in that moment, I realized children cannot be what they can’t see.

Fostering Empathy and Compassion

How do we expect children to have empathy and compassion for other people if we don’t show them how? How do we expect them to treat others with kindness and respect if they don’t know what that feels like in their own bodies? See, I wonder what it would be like if we actually supported parents with tools and understanding to listen compassionately to their children. I wonder what it would be like if we actually helped parents unpack their own childhood so that they don’t have to carry that baggage and put it on their children’s shoulders.

I wonder what it would be like if we supported and encouraged boys to cry and be vulnerable and we encouraged girls to rage and find their voice and speak up for what they need. And I wonder if, instead of harsh disciplines and punishments, we replaced it with compassionate listening, loving limits, boundaries, and we learned to look behind the behaviour. There is always a reason behind the behaviour. And I wonder what it would look like if we took all of that and we placed it in our education system.

Innovating Education

So, it’s because of those ideas that around about 18 months ago, a colleague and I set out to create Woodline Primary School. A primary school set in the Geelong hinterland on a beautiful farm with abundant nature. We have horses and chooks and veggie patches. And the philosophy of our school is around fostering emotional well-being in a safe learning environment.

Research actually shows that when children feel safe to learn, which means they feel free of judgement and criticism, when they’re treated with kindness and respect, where they have autonomy over their bodies and their learning, and they are given much love and celebration about the unique differences in who they are, then what happens is their neurological systems become fully operational, and their capacity for growth and learning increases.

So, our aim at Woodline is, when children spend time with us at our school, not only do they learn about the world, but they develop critical life skills, such as emotional intelligence, growth mindset, critical thinking, a love of failure, because every time you fail, you just realise, “Oh, there’s just so many more options I haven’t yet explored.” And more than anything, they learn to become compassionate citizens of the earth. We believe that if we support children’s emotional well-being, then learning becomes effortless and infinite.


The great Sir Ken Robinson said that the aims of education are to understand the world around us and understand the world within us. But what if we prioritise the world within? Then surely the world around us would make so much more sense. How different could the world be if we place connection, heart, and compassionate listening at the centre of every relationship? Thank you.

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