As parents, we all want our children to succeed in both the academic and the emotional realms of their lives. Oftentimes parents and teachers become so focused on the academic realm that they neglect the emotional one. Daniel Goleman is a Harvard educated and internationally renowned author, Ph.D. psychologist and science journalist. He wrote a groundbreaking book titled, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ. In his book Goleman redefines what it means to be smart and how we can teach our children emotional skills very early in their lives. He also explains why new brain research indicates that children’s ability to deal effectively with emotions (E.Q.) can be a better indicator of life success that their intelligence (I.Q.)
This article will address ideas on how to help increase children’s emotional awareness so they can increase their chances for a more fulfilling life. . This includes happiness and success in every aspect of life from career and personal relationships to health and well-being. We can teach our children how to be more emotionally intelligent.
Emotional Intelligence consists of five characteristics.
These are (1) emotional self-awareness, (2) managing feelings or self-regulation, (3) self-motivation, (4) empathy and (5 relationship skills.
The first one, self-awareness, is about knowing oneself– knowing ones feelings, knowing what one likes, , wants, feels comfortable about and in general being attuned to one’s needs. People who are smart about this make better decisions about who they marry or what job they take. These are decisions that can affect one for a lifetime. We can promote self-awareness by respecting children’s feelings, taking feelings seriously, listening and trying to understand what the child communicates both verbally and non-verbally. This helps the child feel valued, validated, understood and raises self-esteem and self-acceptance.
The second characteristic is self regulation and managing one’s feelings. This involves handling one’s emotions, especially anger, anxiety, and frustration. Adults can be good role models for how to appropriately and effectively handle these emotions. Accepting children’s feelings (this does not mean accepting inappropriate behaviors) is very helpful to children in learning how to self-soothe and calm themselves and relax. Children need to learn that emotions have a function and need to be managed effectively and how to bounce back from setbacks and upsets. They need help learning how to move beyond rumination of feelings to developing an effective action plan. We need to discuss and talk about this repetitively and encourage children to seek and use help and support from others. We can also encourage a sense of humor about life’s small upsets. Learning these skills can help alleviate feelings of chronic stress and development of illnesses related to stress.
The third characteristic, self-motivation, is critical for success in life. It is difficult to achieve in life without motivation and persistence in the face of setbacks. Self-motivation skills involve self-control, delaying gratification, controlling impulsiveness and promoting persistence. We need to help children set realistic goals and meet them. Optimism and hope can be modeled and an attitude of “you can make things happen” and “I believe in you” are important messages for parents and teachers to impart.
The fourth characteristic is empathy, the ability to recognize emotions in others and take on their perspective as well as show concern and caring for them. This is about the ability to read others both verbally and nonverbally and tune in to them and mirror them. We need to encourage children to put themselves in others shoes to promote morality and altruism which helps not only in personal relationships but in creating a better world.
The fifth and final characteristic is relationship skills. This involves social competence, making friends, becoming leaders, learning to compromise, problem-solve, and resolve conflicts. Children need adults to teach and model these skills as well as encourage them to be assertive, skilled communicators, cooperative, helpful and sharing. They need coaching to be able to give compliments, apologize when wrong, appreciate others and develop a sense of humor.
In summary these five characteristics are predictors of how successful children will be at work, in relationships and with their own health. We have the opportunity to teach, model and nurture emotional intelligence. It is important to begin as young as possible because childhood lessons will become lifelong habits. Upsets and acting out behaviors are golden opportunities for us to act as emotional coaches. In so doing, we will be able to take children’s feelings seriously and understand why something is upsetting them. Parents, teachers and other adults can help children find positive ways to self-soothe and become comfortable with handling life stresses and frustrations.
Hildie Newman, LCSW
*Hildie Newman, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, has been in private practice for over 25 years. She earned her Masters of Social Work Degree from the University of Denver and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education.