What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It so Important?
What is emotional Intelligence?
When we think about children going to school to get an education, thoughts of academic rigor usually appear at the forefront. However, the emotional wellness of a child should not be undervalued and is something that all school districts need to include as part of their school mission statements. No child should ever come to school in distress or fear of being around their peers.
This past October, I did an activity with my middle school students that honored “Unity Day.” In the United States, this day was started in 2011 by Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center as an opportunity to promote kindness, empathy, and inclusion among students across the nation. My students took the activity seriously and did a fantastic job coming together to express their thoughts on how to make others feel included. They offered solutions on what needs to be done to build an empathetic community which supports one another.
Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Marc Brackett, the director at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the author of Permission to Feel to get his thoughts on the topic of “emotional intelligence.”
What is emotional intelligence and why is it so important for children to strengthen this type of intelligence?
Dr. Brackett mentions: “Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize our own emotions and those of others, not just in the things we think, feel, and say, but also in our facial expressions, body language, vocal tones, and other nonverbal signals.” For instance, if someone uses the phrase “Is that so?” Depending on the intonation and the context that question is being used, it can serve to have multiple meanings, which can provoke specific reactions.
There is a correlation between emotional intelligence and overall success and happiness. Research shows that children with higher emotional intelligence tend to have less anxiety and depression and experience a greater overall well-being. They also achieve higher academically and have better quality relationships with their peers.
How can we help foster emotional intelligence in our children?
- First and foremost, parents, educators, and any adults working with children should set good examples of effective communication, kindness, acceptance, and understanding toward all people.
- Model effective emotion regulation strategies. By finding practical strategies for dealing with what we and others feel, we will be better able to regulate our emotions, rather than let them regulate us.
For example, when I want to feel more positive emotion, I immediately change what I am thinking, which changes my state of being. When I feel more anxious, I look at a fixed object, take slow, relaxed deep breaths to regain a sense of being more mindful in the moment. Often children with learning differences feel different in some way and may become alienated. Thus, it’s even more important to check in with them and support them in learning how to manage their emotions effectively.
- Use a nuanced vocabulary to describe your own emotions, while also supporting your children in developing a nuanced vocabulary. For instance, instead of saying that you are “happy” with a situation, you can use words like “ecstatic,” “over the moon,” or “thrilled.” This subtlety in expression not only gives the conversation a flare of heightened emotion, but also increases a child’s vocabulary.
- Express your feelings in accordance with cultural norms and social contexts in a way that tries to inform and invite empathy from the listener. By putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you will have a better sense of the emotional needs of that person you are communicating with.
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“An important factor in gaining a higher EI is to understand our feelings and determine their source and what experiences actually caused then. From there, we can see how they’ve influenced our behaviors.” ~Dr. Marc Brackett (American author and director at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence)
The Challenges That Lie Ahead
One of the biggest challenges that Dr. Bracket has seen in the field is that people think they have a higher emotional intelligence than they actually have. It’s a bias, of course. Who wants to think of themselves as unskilled in reading people and their emotions? Unfortunately, most people have not acquired a comprehensive education in emotional intelligence. For example, when asked, “How are you feeling?” many say, “Fine,” “Okay,” or “Busy.” They shy away from getting granular with specific feeling words like “peeved,” “angry,” “livid” or “content,” “joyful,” or “elated.”
Dr. Brackett has found that many people use unhelpful strategies to manage their emotions. These are things like denial, suppression, excessive alcohol consumption, and substance abuse to name a few, as opposed to helpful strategies like positive self-talk and reappraisal or exercise.
Dr. Brackett provides the following advice that we can take as a society towards obtaining a cultural shift of increasing our emotional intelligence, so we can live in a more peaceful, understanding, and accepting world for everyone.
- Give all people the permission to feel all emotions, not just the positive ones. We need to acknowledge that all emotions are information. For instance, anger means “I perceived an injustice.” Disappointment means “I have an unmet expectation.” Joy means “I’m achieving my desired goals.” Contentment means “I feel complete and satisfied.” When used wisely, emotions help us to achieve academically, socially, and professionally.
- Acknowledge that we need systemic change, as opposed to individual change. Teaching emotional intelligence is really about building emotionally intelligent homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.
Douglas Haddad, is an award-winning educator and best-selling author. You can go online or to a local bookstore and order his best-selling-book The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens: Strategies for Unlocking Your Child’s Full Potential, you will find specific strategies to help guide your child with time management, setting goals, and motivation to achieve greatness in their life. www.douglashaddad.com