Thomas Stanley, in his book The Millionaire Mind noted that multimillionaires rated the top five factors contributing to their success as: being honest, being highly disciplined, getting along with people, having a supportive spouse, and working harder than most people.
Each of these factors reflects aspects of emotional intelligence. And what did the millionaires say about cognitive intelligence? It was ranked twenty-first out of thirty possible factors!
EI Continues to Develop; IQ Stops Developing
IQ can be influenced by many factors in a child’s life including things such as prenatal nutrition, genetics, and how stimulating the early environment is for the child. But, by the end of the teenage years, brain development is almost finished and IQ is set.
EI, however, grows throughout most of adulthood, peaking in our fifties or sixties and only declining minimally until the eighties. Learning EI skills during childhood is like many other skills such as how to tie a shoe or ride a bike. Once learned, the skill never fades away completely, although it can get a little rusty if unused! And, because so many life circumstances give children opportunities to use their EI skills, this practice further solidifies the skill so that it’s accessible even during the most challenging times.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence(ĭ-mōʹsh-nl ĭn-tĕlʹ-jns) (n) A set of skills that helps children identify, appropriately express, and manage their emotions; develop effective relationships; cope with stress; adapt to change; and make good decisions.
Simply put, emotional intelligence involves an array of skills that allow you or your child to understand and leverage emotions in ways that lead to more accurate self-awareness, greater confidence, more effective coping, stronger relationships, better decision-making, and more academic and work success. Emotional intelligence does not mean that your child is emotional or must tell others everything he’s feeling. Rather emotional intelligence skills will allow your child to stand up to bullies, handle pressure, or become motivated to perform at his best—among many other things!
Emotional intelligence is not the same thing as common sense, nor is it something we improve upon just because of life experience. Skills like emotional intelligence must be learned and practiced.
Why Is It Important?
Children learn EI skills by copying what they see on television, experiencing different events, learning from their mistakes, and by responding to different parenting styles. Their development of emotional intelligence largely rests in your hands.
A child’s basic temperament or personality will sometimes influence which EI skills are easier or harder to acquire. Think of it like learning to ride a bike—even though some children are more coordinated or have better balance and therefore learn more easily, almost every child can improve with practice and eventually learn to ride a bike. So, certain children, based on their temperament, will need more practice to be comfortable using a skill (e.g., a shy child may find assertiveness more challenging). You need to be realistic about the pace of improvement and remain patient and encouraging as you actively teach emotional intelligence skills.
For example, if you say to your son “big boys don’t cry,” you are teaching him to suppress feelings of sadness. Yet, you may also give him free reign to vent his anger. Can boys only be mad and never sad? And, how does that combination affect their relationships with others? As some of you have witnessed or experienced, suppressing sadness and freely expressing anger will not help your son be effective in relationships as he matures into adulthood.
Or, if you’re hovering too much over your children, doing things for them they can do for themselves, you’re discouraging a different emotional intelligence skill, their independence. Children need to develop independence in order to separate from parents, whether it’s to go to camp, to college, or to pursue a terrific job in another state as a young adult. Even if children do manage physical separation, they may be so emotionally dependent that they cannot handle the expectations of college or adult life—making decisions, managing money, or handling minor disappointments—without calling you for help or support.
A child’s emotional intelligence will likely be one of the strongest predictors of her ultimate success. A child with high emotional intelligence will be able to better understand and emotionally regulate herself, engage in more effective and empathetic relationships with others, make better decisions, and be resilient and adaptive, allowing her to manage stress and life circumstances more effectively. There’s plenty of research to support the notion that higher emotional intelligence is associated with better outcomes for children and teens, including improved academic performance and less problematic behaviors in school, enhanced self-confidence, and better emotional self-awareness.
How Can Parents Help with Developing Kid’s Emotional Intelligence?
It is scientifically proven that children learn from their parents. They are affected by the style of parenting and they carry these early impressions well into adulthood. So parents must develop emotional intelligence skills and adapt their interaction modes accordingly.
The Four Modalities of Interaction
In our interactions with our kids, we generally fall into one of four categories. We are either passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, or assertive.
We are in passive mode when we suppress what we truly feel, pretending that everything is okay. When we are passive, we say yes when we mean no, put others’ needs ahead of our own, and are terrified of ruffling anyone’s feathers. Passive parents are afraid of their children’s upset and desperately want to be liked by them, so they give in to their demands.
When we are aggressive, we come at our children using threats and intimidation to bend them to our will. It may look effective on the outside — the misbehavior stops — but this approach comes at a high price. Our children cannot feel close to us because we are not emotionally safe.
Passive-aggressive parents control their children through shame and guilt. They may not be overtly aggressive, but their subtle guilt trips and manipulations are extremely harmful to their children’s developing sense of self. These kids feel inappropriately responsible for their parents’ needs and happiness rather than in tune with their own. If you say, “You’re the only child in this family who can’t seem to figure out how to set the table right,” you have just shamed your child. Telling her, “I didn’t sleep a wink last night, worrying about how I’m going to pay for that class trip you insist you have to go on,” she can’t help but feel guilty. These are very unhealthy ways of interacting with children.
We are assertive when we are being what I call the Captain of the ship in our children’s lives. In this mode, we maintain healthy boundaries with our children, allowing them to have their needs, wants, feelings, and preferences without making them wrong when they don’t nicely overlap with our own. We don’t need our children to like us, and we are not afraid of their unhappiness, recognizing that if we fix all their problems we are impairing their ability to develop true resilience. Our children know that they are loved for who they are, not for what they can do for us or how their achievements make us look to others.
And when we are assertive, we can acknowledge that our children may not want to do what we ask, without taking their complaints personally or escalating the disagreement into a power struggle. We empathize with their position, allowing them to feel what they feel, but we are not reluctant to set limits that might disappoint them.
Emotional intelligence is a vital aspect of how a child copes with life and its stressors. It must be developed on a consistent basis so that children can outgrow their old ways and adapt to methods that lead to greater success. Parents can help children by adapting the assertive mode while interacting with the kids.
Read about more emotional intelligence qualities here.