Why ‘EQ’ Is The Most Important Thing You Can Teach Your Kids

"EQ" might be the most important skill parents can help teach their children.
“EQ” might be the most important skill parents can help teach their children.

Our kids have had an exceptionally bad hand dealt to them the past few months. They’ve been separated from their entire social structure, their classrooms and all sense of normalcy. And parents have certainly struggled (to put it mildly) to keep up. So how can parents use this time at home ― whatever that looks like ― to teach their children other important life skills and foster their emotional intelligence? Enter EQ Not IQ, a package from HuffPost Parenting.

For decades, parents searching for a clearer picture of their children’s supposed brainpower turned to IQ (“intelligence quotient”) tests.

They’ve largely fallen out of favor, partly because experts say they don’t work but also because parents’ values in terms of what they want for their kids and expect of them have changed.

These days, more than 90% of American parents say it is important to them to raise kids who are caring. We want children who are emotionally stable and empathetic. We want kids who are equipped to deal with a difficult and ever-changing world.

In other words, move over IQ (yes, to a point). We want kids with high “EQ.”

Here’s what parents need to know about the concept and how to get started.

“EQ” is all about emotional intelligence.

There isn’t a clear-cut definition for what “EQ” (“emotional quotient”) actually means because it’s really a loose, unofficial term. But generally, when people talk about EQ, they’re talking about a person’s emotional intelligence. And according to psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman, who helped popularize the term in the 1990s, emotional intelligence generally encompasses four domains: a person’s self-awareness, their ability to self-manage, their social awareness, and their ability to manage relationships effectively.

Put even more simply? Emotional intelligence is all about having “greater awareness of your emotions so that you can manage them more effectively,” Korrel Kanoy, author of “The Student EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Academic and Personal Success,” told HuffPost.

Because the whole concept of emotional intelligence is broad, there aren’t big, robust scientific studies that say having high EQ clearly leads to long-term benefits.

But there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that being self-aware and being able to work through tough emotions in a constructive way will only help kids throughout their lives.

The first step? Help kids identify their feelings.

One of the most powerful things parents and caregivers can do to help children foster emotional intelligence is simply to help them figure out what they’re feeling.

“Old-school parenting said you tell your children ‘Don’t cry’ or ‘Don’t get mad’ — but we now know that parents should do the exact opposite,” Kanoy said. “Of course they are going to get sad. They are going to get mad. They’re human beings.”

Instead of encouraging kids to just get over their feelings, parents should actively help them identify what they’re experiencing. And experts like Kanoy believe that practice of noticing and naming feelings can start at a really young age. If, for example, you have a toddler who is pouting because you told them “no,” point out that they look like they’re feeling angry or frustrated, she urged.

“Old-school parenting said you tell your children ‘Don’t cry’ or ‘Don’t get mad.’”

– Korrel Kanoy, author of “The Student EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Academic and Personal Success”

There are a lot of simple tools and strategies that can help kids practice identifying what they’re feeling, like a basic “mood meter” with four colors that they can check in with periodically. To start, keep it really simple: red = angry, blue = sad, green = calm, yellow = happy — or something like that.

Another idea? Have kiddos rank their emotions on a scale from 1-10, and do that yourself — pointing out when you’re feeling really heated or when you’re calm. Or try a “feeling thermometer.” It doesn’t really matter what tool you use (or if you use one); all that matters is that parents take steps to help their kiddos tune in to their feelings rather than deny them.

“Paying attention to our emotions is the first step to learning how to manage them. Sometimes just articulating an emotion helps to defuse it,” says the Child Mind Institute’s website. “Too often we try to pretend we aren’t feeling negative emotions until it’s too late and we are feeling terrible.”

Be ready with some healthy strategies for coping.

Learning how to cope with emotions is, obviously, a lifelong project, and it’s not your job as a parent to have all the answers. But you can help children develop emotional intelligence by showing them the ways you grapple with difficult feelings.

Kids learn by watching their parents, particularly when they’re young. So be really deliberate about pointing out when you experience difficult emotions yourself, and be equally deliberate about talking through how you cope. You’re normalizing the fact that we all experience stress and sadness and anger, and that there’s nothing “wrong” with your kid if they do, too.

The Child Mind Institute’s website offers this really clear (and pretty low-stakes) example: If you’re upset because you forgot something at the grocery store, tell your kid how you’re feeling. Then really deliberately call out what you’re doing to get through it. “You might say, ‘I’m going to take some deep breaths to calm down — that often helps me.’”

(If you need to brush up on your own coping strategies, this chart from Colorado Children’s Hospital has some really simple ideas. There are also really great kids books out there that can help on your quest to raise kind, emotionally intelligent kids.)

Lastly, there is a third, crucial step to this process that Kanoy said parents sometimes forget. When you see your kid identifying what they’re feeling and actively trying to find ways to cope with it, pile on the praise. Let them know you value their efforts. Unfortunately, that’s a message American parents appear to need some serious help sending. Despite the fact that so many parents say they want to raise emotionally stable, caring children, surveys suggest that kids mistakenly believe that their parents are much more concerned about their personal success.

“Acknowledge their hard work,” Kanoy said. “Because it is hard work.” And then commit to keep doing that hard work — together.

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