Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Preschool siblings kissing mom

In the early childhood years, children develop a core personality and sense of themselves. They develop a view of the social and physical world and their abilities to navigate the currents and shoals that carry them along. Motivation to succeed becomes internalized. Children develop empathy for others and a capacity to respond to the emotional ups and downs of others.

Emotional intelligence is made up of the following:

  1. Knowing one's emotions. Self-awareness, or the ability to recognize a feeling as it happens, is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Being aware of our moods, thoughts, and feelings about our moods is necessary to manage emotions.
  2. Managing emotions. Managing feelings so that they lead to appropriate behavior is a critical ability that builds on self-awareness.
  3. Motivating oneself. Enthusiasm and persistence in the face of anxiety, fear, and setbacks set achievers apart. Believing that you possess the will and the way to master events is a critical predictor of success in school and life.
  4. Recognizing emotion in others. Empathy builds on self-awareness and applies it to others. It is a fundamental skill that is essential to successful interpersonal interactions.
  5. Handling relationships. The art of relationships is, in large part, measured by how well we can manage the emotions of others, and how well we are able to recognize and respond to those emotions with appropriate behavior.
Source: Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, based on the work of Yale psychologist Peter Salovey.

Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ)

How can we help our children optimize their emotional intelligence? We can try our best as parents to optimize their EQ by modeling our own emotional intelligence in our behavior and our interactions with our children.

Some ways parents can help foster a high EQ are:

  • Paying attention to their children’s feelings and helping them understand and articulate those feelings.
  • Helping their children recognize and understand the feelings of others.
  • Setting goals for their children and helping children set their own goals as they grow more mature.
  • Helping their children develop an optimistic view of life.
  • Providing boundaries, limits, and direction so their children can become responsible members of a community.
  • Supporting the development of the competence, confidence, and persistence necessary to succeed at tasks by gently coaching, mentoring, and providing challenges and opportunities for manageable risk. This is usually the most effective strategy for helping children. Ignoring feelings as something to get over, a laissez faire approach that accepts all sorts of reactions, or a negative reaction to children’s emotional responses won’t help children develop the sense of self and skills they need to succeed.
Emotional intelligence grows out of conversations and one-on-one time with our children; it also grows out of engaging them in our lives and allowing children to participate in family decisions.

Early Care and Education and Emotional Intelligence

Early care and education programs that set high expectations, provide plenty of social interactions with children and adults, offer opportunities for making choices and taking responsibility, and recruit teachers who recognize and appreciate each child’s unique sensibility and learning styles support the development of emotional intelligence. Programs that seem to focus on training children or filling them with information or by intent or result appear to spend more time managing children then mentoring them, do little to cultivate emotional intelligence.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of current literature available on the concept of an EQ. Parents should be selective and look for books that are based on reliable research. A driven engineering approach to “raising your child’s EQ” is probably counter-productive. The best advice for parents might be to spend less time focusing on what our children will be and more time enjoying and supporting our children in the here and now with optimism, high (but realistic) expectations, and gentle coaching to succeed.

For more on emotional intelligence:

  • "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman
  • "Emotional Intelligence: Science and Myth" by Gerald Matthews, Moshe Zeidner, and Richard Roberts
  • "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child" by John Gottman, Joan Declaire, and Daniel Goleman
Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
Preschool siblings kissing mom