Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand and manage our own emotions and the emotions of others. Its development is distinct from the development of academic intelligence and a child can benefit from the positive impact on success and wellbeing that it can provide. A child experiencing some of the less helpful characteristics common in high learning potential children, such as the tendency towards perfectionism, social challenges, or worry and anxiety, could benefit greatly from the mitigating effect of the development of their emotional intelligence. In our blog Emotional Intelligence and High Learning Potential we looked at what emotional intelligence is and its impact on children with high learning potential. In this article we look in more detail at the five key skill areas identified as constituting emotional intelligence by psychologist Dr Daniel Goleman:
- Self-awareness: the ability to recognise your own emotions (and how they affect not just yourself but others around you).
- Self-regulation: the ability to remain in control of your actions, whatever emotions you may be feeling.
- Motivation: the ability to persevere in your pursuits, even in the face of difficulties.
- Empathy: the ability to understand and respond to the emotions of others.
- Social skills: the ability to use emotional intelligence in the context of interpersonal relationships.
Being able to understand their emotions: what they are, why they are experiencing them and then what to do in response to them, goes a long way in building up emotional intelligence. You can help your child by discussing your own emotions; by modelling emotionally intelligent behaviour, showing them that it is okay to have all different kinds of emotions and that we can respond to them in a positive manner.
Talk to them about how you feel; about how they feel, and about both the big and the small emotions, in order to take the fear of the unknown out of the equation. This can be of immense help to a child who may previously have found it difficult to discuss their feelings. Modelling behaviour in this way can show them that the world does not end when we admit to our emotions; that, in fact, it becomes a whole lot easier to navigate once we do not fear our feelings. Validate their own emotions, and their intensity, and make such discussions so regular that the whole process becomes comfortable, normalised, almost automatic, and certainly significantly less scary.
If they are not comfortable vocalising their emotions, allow them to write them down or draw them. Perhaps make up some emotion cards so that your child can pick out the ones that they are feeling at that moment, or ask them: “If you were an animal, what would you be?”. Helping them to develop the confidence and the vocabulary to recognise, name and describe their emotions will help them to feel more in control, and they can begin to take ownership of them. From that point, they will be much more able to go on to choose appropriate ways forward. For more support in helping them to develop their emotional literacy, see our advice sheet PA616 Describing Feelings
It is also only with the development of such self-awareness that a child can go on to develop another of the key skills of emotional intelligence: empathy. From the stepping stone of being able to recognise their own emotions they will be able to move on to identifying the emotions of others.