“Emotional Intelligence: A Key Element for Success in Children”

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Thursday, April 19, 2018
By Cristina M. Olaechea, ED.S.

Licensed School Psychologist

Many often associate success in life with high mental intelligence, proper schooling, and perhaps even a streak of good luck. Of course, each of these may play a role but are they enough? We have all encountered bright children that unfortunately do not see their talents through and we may find ourselves wondering “what went wrong, they had so much potential.”  All too often, we rarely consider — or briefly glance over — emotional intelligence as the missing element. 

Emotional intelligence involves how aware we are of our own feelings, how easily we are able to regulate moods, the ability to recognize emotions in others, maintaining motivation in light of frustrating circumstances, controlling our impulses, delaying gratification, and the facility with which we are able to empathize with another person. These delicate skills are also very powerful and can affect a child’s personal and professional success later in life.

Fortunately for us, we have some control over the situation since parents and schools can help foster, develop, and nurture emotional intelligence in their children. It is never too early to start teaching them how to manage the emotional stress and normal pressures of growing up. Effective communication and positive conflict resolution can be learned. By encouraging these skills at a young age, we help children internalize these prosocial responses and prepare them for the years ahead.

There are many ways parents and teachers can nurture success and raise emotionally intelligent children. What follows are some tips to get you started:
  • Catching a child doing something good helps build optimism and self-confidence.
  • Honor your child’s feelings and take their emotions seriously since these feelings drive their behavior. 
  • Teach them to make choices at a young age. This empowers the child and shows them that they have control over their actions. It will challenge youngsters to evaluate realistic alternatives and consider the effects they may have on a situation.
  • Label feelings and help your child connect to these emotions by describing how their body changes or looks when they feel stressed (i.e. fast breathing, fists clenched, furrowed brows, teeth grinding). The use of a mirror helps to make this a more visual and concrete experience for them by connecting what they feel internally to how they are behaving externally.
  • Give children an outlet to de-escalate their behavior when you start noticing the first signs that they are stressed. Some examples of this are breathing techniques, an exercise activity, or a quiet place to compose themselves. 
  • Avoid the temptation to fix negative emotions immediately. Empathize with your child and validate that feeling, even if it is difficult for you to see them upset. We want to communicate the message that their feelings are important so that they return to us again for guidance in the future. 
  • Help children reframe negativistic thinking and engage in positive self-talk. If children can learn the power of their thoughts early on, their journey through life will most likely be happier and more rewarding.
  • Use materials that help incorporate the above mentioned skills into your daily life. Some great resources are csefel.vanderbilt.edu and www.consciousdiscipline.com.
  • And now, for the toughest one for us adults…Be the best model of the skills you are trying to teach! With the demands of modern life, work, raising a family, and the extra stressors we place on ourselves just to measure up, this can definitely be a daily challenge. Allow yourself to feel negative emotions as they arise. Yet, be mindful that there are always little eyes watching you and using you as their example for how to respond to adversity and relate to others.
Raising a successful child involves highlighting the things your child is good at or passionate about. Teach them to break down a task into smaller, more doable steps. Encourage them to ask a lot of questions and model persistence since being really good at something often requires time, effort, and practice. Be sure they know that small improvements count as well.  Assist them in finding the way around a problem while viewing mistakes as an opportunity for learning. Most importantly, show children that they are loved by being truly present in their life. As the saying goes, “You must first teach a child he is loved, only then is he ready to learn everything else.”

We have the opportunity to turn conflict into a “teachable moment” and support the development of critical life skills. With the prevalence of bullying, gun violence, and mental health issues in children, we must take the lead in teaching them about emotional awareness and the ability to handle feelings in order to facilitate success in life. After all, true success is not just about landing a great, high paying job. It is also about personal success — feeling a sense of happiness and fulfillment, carrying yourself with integrity, having a sense of responsibility, demonstrating compassion and respect for others, enjoying meaningful and lasting relationships, and feeling good, both physically and mentally. Since we all know that life is unpredictable and tests to our emotional integrity can come at any moment, building an arsenal of tools from birth will be one of the best gifts you can give your child.