By Nefertiti B. Poyner, Ed.D.
From the time their babies are born until they establish themselves as adults, many parents are at least a little concerned with how intelligent their children will be. (I know I sure am!) While it is important that children learn their ABCs and 123s and pass exams, growing emotional intelligence (EQ) is an aspect of our children’s development that we must consider in an ongoing and intentional manner. EQ is our ability to identify and manage the emotions of ourselves and others. It refers to the way that we perceive, process, regulate, and use emotional information.
Making an effort to increase your child’s EQ is one of your most important tasks as a parent. Studies consistently show that EQ is much more important than IQ, because it relates directly to happiness and success (Goffman and Declaire 1997; Segrin and Flora 2019). Many highly intelligent adults struggle in day-to-day life due to a lack of emotional intelligence (Segrin and Flora 2019). Those with a higher EQ enjoy more satisfying careers and stronger, more fulfilling relationships. The good news is that we can support children’s EQ development with joy!
Emotional intelligence has five components (Goleman and Boyatzis 2017, 1–5) that are important in all aspects of life.
- Self-regulation of emotional states. An emotionally healthy person can manage their moods appropriately and successfully.
- The ability to motivate yourself. Staying the course in spite of doubt and distractions is an important component of emotional intelligence.
- Empathy for others. This includes the ability to recognize emotions and feelings in others and choose an appropriate course of action.
- Navigating relationships. This aspect deals with conflict resolution, treating others appropriately, and receiving the same in return.
- Self-awareness. It is important to be able to recognize your own thoughts and emotions dispassionately to make wise choices.
The following strategies can help you increase your child’s EQ.
1. Teach children about their emotions by recognizing and labeling emotions.
Doing so validates the way your child feels. Putting a label on the emotion provides some perspective to your child. (“You’re very excited about your birthday party,” or “You’re sad that you can’t go out to play.”)
2. Help children recognize how they respond to stress.
Some children cry, while others seek solitude. Your child might hit a sibling with a toy. We all have our own ways of dealing with uncomfortable emotions. Your child will start to associate certain emotions with their behaviors. This is an effective way of teaching children to notice their emotional states. (“You cry when you’re tired or frustrated,” or “You want some alone time when you feel angry.”)
3. Encourage children to share their emotions.
If your child is angry, scared, or nervous, encourage them to discuss it. You might want to share circumstances when you felt the same emotion as a child too. Providing your own examples allows your child to develop a broader perspective. Discussing emotions with you helps children learn how to process emotions, which is healthier than suppressing emotions. (“Tomorrow will be your first day of preschool—how are you feeling? I remember when I went to school for the first time! I was so nervous, my belly felt like it was full of butterflies! But I did it. I was brave, and you are too.”)
4. Encourage problem-solving behaviors when emotions run high.
Teach children that strong emotions are a sign of something that needs to be addressed, if possible. It is more effective to work on a solution than it is to become more upset. (“What’s wrong? How can we make it better?” or “Do you know why you’re crying? What would help you stop crying?”)
5. Be an example of emotional intelligence.
Children learn many of their strategies for dealing with the world by observing their parents. Be an example worthy of imitating.
Building your child’s EQ is very important. Those with high EQs enjoy happier and more productive lives. Do your best to learn about emotional intelligence today and prepare your child for a bright future. There are many excellent books on emotional intelligence at your local bookstore, as well as a plethora of information online. Learn how to enhance your own EQ—you and your child will both benefit!
Nefertiti B. Poyner, Ed.D., is a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, native now residing in Eastern North Carolina. Currently employed by the Devereux Center for Resilient Children (DCRC), Nefertiti is an author, public speaker, and provider of professional learning experiences for early care and education professionals. She is co-author of a Teacher’s Choice Award–Winning resource, Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure: 50 Activities to Promote Resilience in Young Children, as well as Building Your Bounce: Simple Strategies for a Resilient You, a resource designed to help caregivers build their own resilience. Learn more about Nefertiti and the Devereux Center for Resilient Children at centerforresilientchildren.org.
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Goffman, John, and Joan Declaire. 1997. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting. New York: Fireside.
Goleman, Daniel, and Richard E. Boyatzis. 2017. “Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need to Work on.?” Harvard Business Review, February 6, 2017.
Segrin, Chris, and Jeanne Flora. 2019. “Fostering Social and Emotional Intelligence: What Are the Best Current Strategies in Parenting?” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 13, no. 3 (March): e12439. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12439.