Emotional self-awareness – Recognizing, naming and understanding the cause of one’s feelings. For example, a child being able to not only identify feeling “bad,” but also angry, hurt, jealous, upset, sad or scared in various life situations.
Handling emotions appropriately – Demonstrating productive options for managing stress and upsetting feelings rather than “acting out” negatively, such as using words rather than fists to express anger.
Self-motivation – Thinking, planning and solving problems by using impulse control, frustration tolerance, and delayed gratification to reach a specific goal (e.g., no TV until homework is completed); and maintaining hope and optimism, trying again despite setbacks (e.g., a poor grade on a test leads to studying more, not less).
Empathy – Recognizing and understanding emotions in others. If one child is able to care about how another is feeling, teasing or picking fights with unsuspecting victims can be drastically reduced.
Social skills – Handling emotions in relationships and interacting harmoniously with others, including being sensitive to others needs and wants, being able to listen to and empathize with the feelings of others, and developing what is considered good “people skills.”
The concept of emotional intelligence captures in one compelling term the essence of what our children need to know to be productive and happy.
Intellectual ability is not enough. As Goleman points out, IQ and SAT scores don’t predict who will be successful in life. Even school success has been predicted more by emotional and social measures (e.g.: being self-assured and interested, following directions, turning to teachers for help, and expressing needs while getting along with other children) than by academic ability.
To understand how to develop emotional intelligence, we’ll take a look at anger management, one of the most important skills for our children (and us) to master. Goleman cites research that shows many children who are aggressive and hard to handle in the first and second grades tend to have a five-fold increase in truancy, drinking, taking drugs, dropping out, and committing petty crime in their high school years.
Think about the last time your child exploded in anger. When his sister grabbed the remote control and changed the TV station? When her younger brother burst into her room and bothered her friends? How did you react? With calm reason or did you explode back? If we lose control when our children do, what are we really teaching them?
The good news is that we have the power to change and grow, both in our actions and in helping our children develop competent emotional skills. Consider a six-year old boy who’s been having a lot of trouble getting along with his younger three–year–old sister, and who initially had difficulty expressing his feelings. With some simple training and direction, he was able to develop a repertoire of positive coping skills and resolve his dilemma.
“How did you feel when you hit your sister?” – “Bad.”
“Would you like to feel better?” – “Yes.”
“What can you do next time so that you don’t have to hit your sister and feel bad?” – “Count to 10, then go to my room until I calm down.”
Here, in a simplified form appropriate to his age, he demonstrates excellent anger management by calming down using relaxation and distraction techniques, and not responding to his first impulse to hit. When asked what would help him get along better with his sister, he responded, “Not blaming her for things I do.”
The next time a similar incident occurred, a gentle reminder from his parent on how he decided he wanted to calmly handle the situation, assisted and empowered him to keep on track with his developing emotional intelligence.