By Kirsten Rock Keogh
Most of us have grown up assuming that once we were perceived as being ‘book smart’ or had a high IQ that our road for success was sure to follow. We strived to achieve the highest marks in our A levels (or Leaving Cert if you’re Irish, like me), and get accepted into our preferred university course and again believe our success will come from our ability to analyze, apply logical reasoning and essentially be able to spill out paragraphs upon paragraphs of memorized information.
The encouragement for academic intelligence will always be at the forefront of a parents mind because that’s the main component in the global educational system, however research has introduced us to another intelligence that should also be given equal (if not more) importance – Emotional Intelligence.
EI can be simply defined as our ability to recognise, manage and express our emotions effectively, while being fully aware of the emotions of those around us. It’s broken down into 5 key characteristics:
Self-awareness – Knowing our own emotions in the moment and how we affect another
Self-regulation – Being able to regulate and control how we react to our emotions (not acting on impulse)
Motivation – Knowing to push forward, despite of negative or distracting feelings
Empathy – Listening and understanding the emotions of others
Social skills – Being able to build long lasting and impactful social connections
I know, talking about emotional intelligence for toddlers and even teenagers might seem ironic at times, especially if a mini tantrum just broke out on the floor or you’ve witnessed the fourth ‘sighhhh’ from your tween over the breakfast table. It can be described as a ‘work in progress’ skillset and each child will learn at different rates depending on their exposure to different experiences (it’s not linear, like IQ). Children need to experience the feeling of emotions and practice tolerating them to develop self-control and other social skills. So, how can we help them begin and what are the long-term benefits?
Be their EI role model
Children love to observe their parents and copy words/actions – now’s a great time to reflect how do you express your emotions at times and what would you like them to learn from you? They’ll begin to learn emotion and behaviour linkages (e.g., “dad throws the remote at the TV when his team loses”) and so it’s important they understand how to express themselves in a socially appropriate way. Show them how to fully listen while in the company of friends and family by not interrupting or trying to fill small spaces of silence – you’re absorbing more than just the words of the speaker. Show empathy to your child by validating their feelings, even if their emotions and reasoning seem a little bit dramatic – as challenging (and perhaps confusing) as it can be at times, try not dismiss the feeling as it may teach them ‘this feeling is wrong’ and suppressed emotions may start to build up.
Help build their emotional vocabulary
Children need to know how to recognize what they’re feeling. Parents can help their children name the emotion that they suspect the child is feeling based on their current behaviour. For example, if a child is entering the classroom for the first time you might recognize that they’re squeezing your hand tighter than usual – ask them “Are you feeling a little shy today? I can feel your hand holding mine tighter”. They’ll begin to learn how to read facial expressions, understand different tones of voice, body language and even the appropriate use of an emoji!
Healthy coping skills
Once children have recognized their emotions, the next step is to help them learn how to manage them effectively. Big thoughts can lead to big feelings and it’s important that we can show children solutions to calm both their minds and nervous system (self-regulation). They need to know how to cheer themselves up and how to feel resilience after failing. Some of my favourite tools for recommending to parents include ‘bubble breathing’ and ‘mindful colouring’.
Creates and sustains long lasting relationships
Emotional Intelligence helps children to be able to create strong social connections where they know how to communicate and interact appropriately and effectively. They’ll know how to manage those small conflicts that pop up and develop more meaningful friendships as they grow older. When children are more empathetic, they are more likely to experience trust and respect amongst their peers. They’ll display high levels of compassion and consideration before making a decision that could impact those around them.
Over the last two decades, the corporate world has moved away from only testing candidates on their ability for problem solving and the interpretation of data. They are looking for candidates that score high on Emotional Intelligence because they need employees who can read workplace situations, create a culture of collaboration within teams and solve problems where conflict exists. Companies are now investing in increasing their employees Emotional Intelligence, especially those in managerial positions because without being able to regulate our emotions, we cloud our cognitive ability which may result in poor decision making and tarnished relationships.
It’s never too early and never too late to start building or improving our Emotional Intelligence. Encouraging your child to develop their EI is probably one of the best gifts - helping them feel equipped for life ahead. Life has its fair share of ups and downs and mountains to climb, where we all need to know how to tolerate discomfort, take back control and embrace change to move forward – whether it’s related to school, career or personal relationships.