How Important Is a Child’s Emotional Intelligence?

By Pat Kozyra
Pat Kozyra
Pat Kozyra
October 28, 2015 Updated: December 8, 2015

Emotional Intelligence may be new but it is fascinating for most parents. The following definition, description and explanation are all based on the work of Daniel Goleman, a psychologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He is a journalist for the New York Times and has written many books on this topic. There is a video which all students should see to understand why emotional intelligence might be even more important than I.Q.

“Emotional Intelligence” refers to the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships. Many people who are book smart, says Goleman, but lack emotional intelligence end up working for people who have a lower I.Q than they but who excel in emotional intelligence skills. It is not surprising then, that Daniel Goleman wrote a book called ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than I.Q.’

“Rule Your feelings lest your feelings rule you.” Goleman says our view of human intelligence is far too narrow. Emotional intelligence includes a crucial range of abilities (a different way of being smart).

These are: self awareness, impulse control, persistence, zeal and self-motivation, empathy (reading emotions in others) and social deftness.

Emotional Intelligence is not fixed at birth. It can be nurtured and strengthened in all of us unlike I.Q. which it is said, is a genetic given that is fixed and cannot be changed.

When people of high I.Q. flounder and those of modest I.Q do surprisingly well, what are the factors at play? Goleman argues that the difference quite often lies in the ability called “Emotional Intelligence”.

The five basic emotional and social competencies are listed here with more explanatory detail.

1. Self-awareness: Knowing what we are feeling in the moment and using those preferences to guide our decision making; having a realistic assessment of our own abilities and a well grounded sense of self-confidence.

2. Self-regulation: Handling our emotions so that they facilitate rather than interfere with the task at hand; being conscientious and delaying gratification to pursue goals; recovering well from emotional distress.

3. Motivation: Using our deepest preference to move and guide us toward our goals, to help us take initiative and strive to improve and to persevere in the face of setbacks and frustrations.

4. Empathy: Sensing what people are feeling, being able to take their perspective, and cultivating rapport and attunement with a broad diversity of people.

5. Social Skills: Handling emotions in relationships well and accurately reading social situations and networks; interacting smoothly; using these skills to persuade and lead, negotiate and settle disputes, for cooperation and teamwork.

Most disturbing in Goleman’s book, is data from a massive survey of parents and teachers which shows a world- wide trend for the present generation of children to be more troubled emotionally than those of the last generation, more lonely and depressed, more angry and unruly, more nervous and prone to worry and more impulsive and aggressive.

The remedy, Goleman feels, lies in preparing our young, for life. How can we bring together mind and heart in the classroom?

How can we bring intelligence to our emotions, civility to our streets and caring to our communal life?

Education will have to include inculcating essential human competencies such as self-esteem, self-control, empathy, the art of good listening, resolving conflicts (Creative Problem Solving) and cooperation.

Two of the most important moral stances that our times call for, are self-restraint (controlling impulses) and compassion (showing empathy by understanding other’s feelings).

With each emotion, the body manifests itself in physiological details preparing for its response.

Some emotions (there are hundreds) are:

  • Anger—blood flow to hands ready to fight
  • Happiness—brain inhibits negative feelings
  • Fear—blood flows to legs ready to run
  • Love—tender feelings relaxed and calm
  • Surprise—lifting of the eyebrows to see it
  • Disgust—upper lip curled, nose wrinkled
  • Sadness/grief—drop in energy
  • Shame—withdrawal, no eye contact
  • Enjoyment.

We have two minds—one that thinks and one that feels—heart and head—the emotional and the rational—the feeling versus the reasoning.

Stoplight Poster for Impulse Control—six steps
This is taught in Emotional Literacy classes to 5th and 6th grades in some schools and you may wish to use this with your child at home when he or she is about to strike out in anger, withdraws into a huff at some slight, or bursts into tears at being teased.

Red Light: Stop, calm down, and think before you act

Yellow Light: 1.  Say or state the problem and how you feel.
                         2.  Set a positive goal.
                         3.  Think of lots of solutions
                         4.  Think ahead to the consequences

Green Light: Go ahead and try the best plan.

The following rather shocking information comes from a book review of Daniel Goleman’s book ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than I.Q’. by Launa Ellison, Clara Barton School, Minneapolis, Minnesota. She writes: The research studies that Goleman cites indicate that emotional intelligence is the bedrock upon which to build other intelligences, and that it is more closely linked to lifelong success than I.Q. “Impulsivity in 10-year old boys” for example, “is almost three times a powerful a predictor of their later delinquency than is their I.Q.”

Goleman warns of the dramatic drop in “emotional competence” over the past two decades. As evidence, he cites soaring juvenile arrest rates for violent crimes; younger teenage girls getting pregnant; more children being withdrawn, anxious, and depressed, and more attention or thinking problems. “Educators, long disturbed by schoolchildren’s lagging scores in math and reading are realizing that there is a different and more alarming deficiency: emotional illiteracy.”

Goleman believes schools must teach children how to recognize and manage their emotions, and that educators must model emotional intelligence in caring, respectful interactions with children. “Emotional circuits are sculpted by experience through childhood,” he notes, and “we leave those experiences utterly to chance at our peril.”

Canadian citizen Pat Kozyra, currently living in Hong Kong, is the author of “Tips and Tidbits For Parents and Teachers—celebrating 50 years in the classroom and sharing what I have learned.” The book is available at Amazon.com books, and in a number of bookshops in Hong Kong.

Pat Kozyra