By Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., coauthor of Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students: 30 Flexible Research-Based Activities to Build EQ Skills (Grades 5–9)
Our current students are living in a complex, information-rich world filled with many stressors, and in that world, they are going to need social-emotional skills—also known as emotional intelligence (EQ) skills. What are these skills? They include three main areas:
1. Self-awareness and self-management
- The ability to assess and know one’s own emotions, values, and capabilities (both strengths and weaknesses)
- The ability to cope with emotions and maintain self-control
- The ability to persevere to achieve a goal
2. Social awareness and relationship skills
- The ability to understand others and empathize with an awareness of individual and group similarities and differences
- The ability to communicate effectively, both in perceiving others’ messages and expressing oneself
- The ability to work cooperatively with others
3. Responsible decision-making and problem-solving
- The ability to establish positive goals
- The ability to implement effective behaviors to achieve those goals
- The ability to resolve interpersonal conflicts constructively
We all know smart kids who make poor choices, kids with generous hearts who have trouble making friends, sensitive kids who can be hurtful to others, and kids with great potential who struggle to harness their abilities and direct them positively. These kids, and all our students, can benefit from further development of their EQ skills, which they will need when negotiating everyday challenges large and small.
But there is more.
To be a citizen in the digital world requires EQ skills. To make healthy decisions and avoid substance use and abuse takes EQ skills. Preventing harassment, intimidation, and bullying takes EQ skills. College and career readiness requires EQ skills. To create and perform requires EQ skills. To function well in a classroom takes EQ skills.
As an analogy, consider another skill that is of special importance: reading. Doing well in science requires reading skills. Doing well in math requires reading skills. Understanding history and current events requires reading skills. And on and on. We teach reading systematically every year because reading is essential. But for EQ, which is equally essential, we set standards and we may do activities now and then, but we don’t teach it systematically every year. We cannot expect progress in academics and our students’ character and social-emotional competence if we don’t systematically teach social-emotional skills.
Whatever your role is at school—counselor, classroom teacher, mental health professional, nurse, recess monitor, aide, administrator, or anyone else responsible for students’ safety and well-being—you are likely teaching, facilitating, and modeling EQ skills like problem-solving and conflict resolution every day. You deal directly with students’ feelings, relationships, and problems, whether they are part of the curriculum or not. If you are a classroom teacher, you are not only teaching students academic content, but you are also fostering in them essential skills for handling emotions such as frustration, worry, and anger. And you know that kids learn better in a climate of positive relationships—between you and students and between students and their peers. Now, it’s time to engage in social-emotional skill-building systematically, intentionally, and proactively—just as we do with reading.
So, my answer to the question of whether EQ matters is connected to my view of reading. If you can’t read, you are going to face many obstacles in life. And if you can’t read people and situations, you will face at least an equal number of obstacles in life.
Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., is a professor and former director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology, Rutgers University. He is also director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab, academic director of the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service, and founding member of the Leadership Team for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Dr. Elias lectures nationally and internationally and devotes his research and writing to the area of social-emotional and character development in children, schools, and families. He is a licensed psychologist and writes a blog on social-emotional and character development for the George Lucas Educational Foundation at Edutopia. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Ellen, near their children and grandchildren.
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