For many years, medical achievement has been thought of as a purely intellectual phenomenon. Success was equated with scholastic record, with high grades considered as a sign of a hard-working and talented child. High academic achievement was linked with high salaries and high success in every area of life. But recent findings are pointing in an altogether different direction. In fact, many experts have found that the intelligence quotient or IQ is not a good predictor of success in adult life. A new factor looks much more promising as a predictor for adult happiness and successful functioning: Emotional Intelligence, or E.Q.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability or skill in identifying, managing and communicating one’s emotions. It also involves the sensitivity and ability to empathize and respond to other people’s feelings and way of thinking. An emotionally intelligent child can effectively recognize and deal with unpleasant feelings, such as anger or sadness, without being frustrated or debilitated. Similarly, a child can recognize when other people are upset or happy, and can adjust his or her behavior accordingly.
An Emotionally Intelligent Child
Emotional intelligence is well illustrated by the concept of frustration tolerance — that is, the ability to patiently bear something unpleasant in return for the promise of achieving a bigger or better outcome. A famous example of frustration tolerance is the marshmallow test. In the test, children are offered one marshmallow to eat immediately, or two marshmallows to eat after a ten minute waiting period. Kids who can wait for the two marshmallow deal tend to grow up to be more emotionally adjusted adults.
Emotional intelligence is also related to the ability to know one’s strength and limitations. Kids who are emotionally intelligent can tolerate attacks to their self-esteem, simply because they can manage the unpleasant emotions that come with failure or disappointment. More importantly, they know and understand that feelings of defeat are simply that — feelings — and do not, in any way, define them as individuals. If they so want to, they can even change negative feelings to positive ones! This ability to manage their internal world well is one of the reasons why emotionally intelligent children are resilient children.
Lastly, emotional intelligence is related to self-regulation: the ability to adjust when circumstances demand some flexibility. A child who is emotionally intelligent, for example, can sense the difference between a natural conversation and a conversation laced with subtle tension. And because they can read between the lines, they are better able to respond to the communication that is being directed upon them.
Fostering Emotional Intelligence in Children
Although kids are born with a certain amount of emotional intelligence in place, this trait can be affected by environmental factors. In other words, what parents say and do can make a positive difference. Parents can name their own feelings on occasion (“I’m starting to feel frustrated…” or “I’m so excited…” or “I’m so disappointed…”). Parents can also regularly name their children’s feelings (“You’re upset with Mommy…” or “I know you’re scared…” or “It’s not fun for you…”). Regularly naming feelings is a big part of fostering emotional intelligence in the family.