Every parent has experienced it: the meltdown. Your child shrieks in public places, falls to the floor wailing, appears uncontrollable. Don’t worry, it’s normal… for a toddler. But when a child reaches kindergarten age and still can’t control his or her emotions, it begins to be a problem.
That’s why you should be more concerned about your child’s EQ than their IQ.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the process by which children learn to recognize, understand and manage their emotions. Decades of research shows that children who learn EQ skills are more likely to do well in all aspects of life, socially, academically, physically, psychologically.
And the need for EQ skills starts as early as kindergarten; many teachers rate these skills as more important to school success than a child’s ability to read or hold a pencil. In fact, the ability to recognize emotions is a better predictor of success in first grade than economic or family background. Yet kindergarten teachers report that more than 30 percent of children entering their classrooms are emotionally unprepared, lacking the necessary EQ skills needed for school life.
Marc Brackett, Ph.D., Director of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, co-created the RULER method to teach children the five components of emotional intelligence:
- Expressing and
- Regulating emotions.
According to Brackett, “Research shows that poor EQ skills are associated with depression, anxiety, poor academic performance, aggression, drug abuse, destructive peer relationships and poor physical and psychological health.”
He goes on to say, “Children who are taught the RULER skills have higher grades and standardized test scores. They are less aggressive and less likely to bully. They are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, and are less anxious, depressed, and hyperactive.”
Research even shows that children who understand and manage their emotions may enjoy better physical and mental health. The late Candace Pert, Ph.D., former neuroscientist of the National Institute of Mental Health and author of The Molecules of Emotions, wrote, “By teaching children how to manage their emotions, we are literally teaching them how to control their own brain chemistries.”
Scientists who study the mind-body connection (or, to use the term that will impress people at cocktail parties, “psychoneuroimmunology”) point to a complex system linking the immune system with emotions.
Several years ago, I helped develop a program for Pfizer’s Pediatric Health that taught pediatric patients to manage their emotions, with the goal of attaining better health outcomes. Following the implementation of First Aid for Feelings, a survey revealed that children whose doctors had used this model had shorter hospitalizations and required less pain medication. Once these young patients learned emotional coping strategies, the healthcare team was able to help them feel more comfortable and in control and contribute to their own healing.
All of this research demonstrates the need to begin teaching EQ skills in early childhood. Kids need to be prepared to handle the opportunities and challenges they will encounter in their everyday lives. They need to be resilient and able to cope in an ever-changing world. We can’t expect to send our children off to school without the ability to interpret the world around them. Yet surprisingly, most children come to school unprepared to deal with the social and emotional challenges they will face in the classroom.
Young children can learn simple EQ strategies that will allow them to manage their emotions in a socially acceptable manner. Try these methods:
- Teach children a vocabulary for their emotions so they have names for the feelings they are experiencing.
- Encourage them to express their emotions through conversation and play, such as music, art or exercise.
- Read together and talk about what the characters in the story might be feeling.
- Create a safe, non-judgmental environment where kids can share thoughts and feelings, and validate those feelings without telling them how they should feel or minimizing their emotions.
- Be a role model for expressing emotions.
Empathetic listening builds trust and allows children to let go of difficult feelings. An emotionally intelligent child will find it easier to demonstrate empathy, respect, tolerance and kindness. They will have the ability to make friends more easily and be better problem solvers.
Better yet, while IQ is fixed at birth, EQ can grow over a lifetime. The best opportunity to shape our children’s emotional intelligence is in their early years, and our homes are their very first classrooms for emotional learning. It’s never too early to give our children the emotional building blocks they will need to succeed.