When you hear the word “intelligence” you might think in terms of academics and IQ…but that is only one form of intelligence. It may surprise you to learn that many psychologists believe that a child’s emotional intelligence (or EQ) might be more important than IQ in terms of overall well-being and happiness. EQ also affects a child’s capacity to learn and grow.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

It is a person’s emotional self-awareness. EQ is your level of self motivation, curiosity, empathy and the ability to manage interpersonal relationships in a constructive way. Basically, it’s the ability to recognize one’s own emotions, and to recognize and acknowledge the feelings of others.

EQ plays a key role in a child’s ability to manage stress and build supporting relationships. It also helps kids develop a balanced outlook on the world, control impulsive behavior, and reach their academic potential in school. IQ may give a child the capacity for comprehension, but EQ gives them the tenacity, coping skills, and support structure to use their IQ to succeed.

In an interview for The Mother Company, Dr. Laura Markham, Ph.D. says “There is abundant research on the risks to kids who don’t develop emotional intelligence. Kids who can’t manage their emotions are more likely to ‘self-medicate’ with drugs and alcohol, to act out impulsively in anger, to become pregnant as teenagers, to develop eating disorders, and to engage in delinquent behaviors.”  

On the other hand, kids with a high EQ build more rewarding relationships and tend to be happier in general. They also do better academically, are better able to deal with challenging situations, and engage in less risky behaviors.

High EQ Leads To Better Outcomes

In 1991 Kenneth Dodge, a psychologist at Duke University wanted to test whether you could change students’ success rates by teaching them social-emotional intelligence (EQ). His team screened 5 years olds across the country and identified 900 children who presented as most “at-risk” for developing academic and life problems later on.

Half of those kids went through regular school as usual. They were also provided with access to free counseling/tutoring. The other half, in addition to free counseling, received PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) lessons which taught EQ skills.

Both groups were tracked over time. By age 25, those who received the PATHS training had not only done better in school, they also had lower rates of arrest and fewer mental health and substance abuse issues. In addition to demonstrating the negative impacts of low EQ, this study shows that emotional literacy can be taught. This is an important thing for parents to know!

Parents Help Build EQ

Your child’s EQ begins with their relationship to you. Parents play the most important role in laying the foundation to build strong EQ skills their children can use throughout their lifetimes. Acting as an emotional coach for your kids, taking their feelings seriously and talking about them; along with modeling strong emotional control and healthy relationships in your own life, are a solid place to start.

While emotionally intelligent kids will still get sad, angry and scared (we all do!), they will be better able to calm down, solve problems, and face challenges without giving up. Plus, the more we help our children become emotionally self aware and relate well to others, the stronger we develop these capacities in ourselves.

Now that you can answer the question, what is emotional intelligence? What do you think about the importance of teaching EQ to kids? Share your thoughts and comments in our Education Community.