Why is Emotional Intelligence Important for Children?

It's natural for parents to want to prepare their children for future success. This is where emotional intelligence comes into play. While a children’s IQ (intelligence quotient) is a good way to measure how they may perform in school, their emotional intelligence, or EQ (emotional quotient), is even more important when it comes to setting children apart.

Key takeaways:

Let’s discuss emotional intelligence, what it is, and how you can increase your child’s EQ and chances of having a successful future.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is essentially one’s ability to discern, decipher, exhibit, regulate, and make use of emotions to connect and communicate with others in clear, valuable ways. Not only is it important to be able to control your emotions and express them in mature, constructive ways, but it’s also essential to recognize, translate, and react to the emotions of others in healthy ways as well. The better a person is at doing this, the higher their emotional intelligence, or EQ, will be.

The notion of emotional intelligence was first popularized by science journalist Daniel Goleman. He arrived at this concept with the use of research by psychologists John Mayer at the University of New Hampshire and Peter Salovey at Yale. The aspects that determine emotional intelligence include:

  • Self-regulation;
  • Social skills;
  • Motivation;
  • Self-awareness;
  • Empathy.

Signs of emotional intelligence

Indicators of emotional intelligence include:

  • Being able to recognize and understand what one is feeling, and what others are feeling;
  • Having self-confidence and self-acceptance;
  • Having empathy for others;
  • Being able to manage your emotions during difficult times;
  • Awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses;
  • Caring about and being interested in others and what they are going through;
  • The ability to learn from mistakes and let them go;
  • Taking ownership of your own shortcomings or mistakes;
  • Being able to embrace changes and transitions in life, and flow with them;
  • Being sensitive to the feelings of others.

What is emotional quotient?

Emotional quotient (EQ) is the way that we measure emotional intelligence through testing, much like one’s intelligence using the IQ score. Emotional intelligence is typically measured using a self-report test or an ability test. Scores can go as high as 160, with 90–100 being average scores. Having high emotional intelligence means that you're able to understand others, empathize with them, and have an awareness of yourself.

When a mental health professional measures emotional intelligence, they typically will use of the following two tests:

  1. The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT);
  2. The Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI).

Why is EQ important?

Research has found EQ to be more of a predictor of future success in children than IQ. Having high emotional intelligence allows kids to be more attentive and engaged in the classroom, and even more successful in their professional careers as adults. Luckily, much unlike IQ, which is a fixed number that doesn't change with time or more studying, emotional intelligence and EQ can be raised over time with work. Working with your kids to help increase their EQ can help them to become more successful students, learners, and eventually more successful adults. Children with lower EQ scores are more likely to have emotional outbursts in school, may exhibit negative behaviors toward others in the class, and may fail to achieve their learning outcomes.

How to raise your child's EQ

If you'd like to increase your child's emotional intelligence and overall chances of having a successful future, the sooner you begin, the better. This is because children's minds are like sponges when they are young and are more able to grab to take hold of the lessons taught to them that will carry them through their school years into adulthood. It's always good to start with the basics, and this means teaching them about emotions. A good place to start is with the six primary emotions, and then building on those. The six primary emotions were first identified by psychologist Paul Ekman in the 1970s. These emotions are the easiest to identify and display using facial expressions. The six primary emotions are:

  1. Happiness;
  2. Sadness;
  3. Fear;
  4. Surprise;
  5. Disgust;
  6. Anger.

Teaching children about the six primary emotions can be fun for them. You can make it into a game and have them make face masks with paper plates and tongue depressors. Have them make three masks, and draw one emotion on each side of each mask. You can then check in with your child throughout the day and ask how they are feeling. They can hold up the mask to show you. You can also give your child various life scenarios and ask them how each situation would make them feel, and how they think it would make another person feel.

Once your child has the six primary emotions down, you can build off these. There are numerous emotions that can be felt by humans, and some emotion lists used by therapists and teachers consist of hundreds of different emotions and feelings. A good tool to use when building off of the six primary emotions is Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. This tool was first developed by psychologist Robert Plutchik, and it begins with 8 basic emotions that become more complex as they integrate with one another.

Another way to teach children about emotions and how to recognize them in themselves and others is by modeling healthy emotional intelligence yourself. You may also want to ensure that the media they are engaging in is modeling healthy emotional intelligence, since they are absorbing everything they are exposed to. A great movie that helps teach kids emotional intelligence is the Pixar film Inside Out.

In addition, the strategies mentioned above for raising your child's emotional intelligence you may also:

  • Teach waiting. Talk to your children about delayed gratification.
  • Emphasize empathy. Walk them through mentally placing themselves in another person’s situation in order to better understand the emotions and feelings of others.
  • Check in. Check in with them throughout the day and listen to them, validate what they’re feeling, and ask them to label their emotions.
  • Give back. Support them in volunteering and making charitable donations.
  • Let them learn. Allow them to make mistakes and feel frustrated so that they can learn to arrive at solutions to difficult problems on their own.
  • Emphasize big picture thinking. Encourage them to see the greater picture.
  • Exhibit gratitude. Have them make a list of the things they are grateful for.
  • Deal with anxiety. Ask them to describe the best-case scenario of any situation they feel anxious about.

Teaching children to have a deeper understanding of the emotions of themselves and others is something that takes practice and time. It doesn't happen overnight. However, if you're committed to teaching them on a consistent basis, they will be more likely to develop into successful adults in the future. If necessary, you may also enlist the help of your child's teachers and even a mental health professional who is trained in working with kids to help further their emotional intelligence training when you aren't able to model it for them or take the time to teach them every day.

Emotional intelligence is very important for both children and adults, and if you are feeling like you could use a bit more practice in the emotional intelligence department, it is never too late. Adults can also increase their EQ and may find great results when working with a trained mental health professional. If you'd like some help raising your emotional intelligence, the sooner you begin, the better. There are a variety of therapists who can assist you in this process so that you can model healthy emotional awareness to your children because whether you realize it, they model after you and your behaviors.

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