Growing emotional intelligence

08 January 2018 - 11:55
By Karabo Disetlhe-Mtshayelo
Emotional intelligence teaches children a sense of self from an early age. / RF123
Emotional intelligence teaches children a sense of self from an early age. / RF123

Every parent's wish is for their child to be book-smart. However, Mavis Ureke, a human behavioural specialist, says that your child's emotional intelligence is just as important, if not more so.

Ureke, an accomplished author, has co-written a new book with her 10-year-old son, titled ABC's of Emotions, and it talks about the importance of your child's emotional intelligence, as well as how parents can develop it.

Ureke says she was motivated to write the book because she realised that there are not many resources out there that children and parents can use to learn emotional intelligence. But what exactly is emotional intelligence, and what is the best way for parents to teach their children?

"Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one's emotions and those of others. To manage emotions, one needs to first correctly identify the emotion, experience it without suppressing, repressing or denying it, then release it and get the message that the emotion is giving you," Ureke says.

While most people are more accustomed to IQ as opposed to EQ, Ureke explains that there is a big difference between the two.

Classes improve mental health and lower use of drugs

According to a 2016 study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, UBC and Loyola University, emotional intelligence classes for children could lead to an improvement of mental health in the long run and lead to a decrease in the use of drugs.

The study used 82 different emotional intelligence programmes and involved almost 100000 students from the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom.

The results indicate emotional intelligence classes lead to drug use and behavioural problems being 6% lower, while diagnoses of mental health problems were reduced by 13.5 % in the long run.

"Intelligence quotient [IQ] is a measure of how intelligent you are, and emotional quotient measures how emotionally intelligent you are. Basically IQ is the head stuff and EQ is the heart stuff. It's important to integrate thinking with feeling to optimise our potential or you will end up being book-smart but unhappy and an 'intelligent fool', which is a term that refers to people who are brilliant but lack the skills to handle their emotions in a healthy way."

According to Ureke, an ability for a child to learn emotional intelligence from a young age helps them build a strong foundation in life and, if children are able to master emotional intelligence, it can equip them to handle any situation that life throws at them.

"Children face their own set of emotional challenges, which can often be triggered from home or even school - things like bullying, failing a grade or subject, not being selected to play for a team, rejection by friends, divorcing parents and parents being unable to provide.

"If they are unable to handle or manage the emotional turbulence triggered by these events, it can lead to an inferiority or even superiority complex, which has a negative impact in life.

"Not every child grows up in a protected household, so emotional intelligence is a tool that helps children develop self-awareness to help them navigate through tough terrain and be successful despite their history and circumstance."

They will not be swayed by or struggle with peer pressure. They are confident, assertive and can express themselves.

They also handle setbacks effectively, check their impulses and control their behaviour, have long attention spans when learning, build a positive self-image, care for personal values and relate well with others.

So how can a parent measure their child's emotional intelligence? Ureke says that a parent can ask themselves a few questions about their child to get to the bottom of things.

By observing how your child handles emotions, you can have an idea of their skill level in terms of dealing with emotion. How do they behave when they are angry, fearful, anxious, bored, excited and happy? How do they navigate out of negative emotions, and do they even have the ability to do so?

How long do they house negative emotions? What is the level of their self-esteem or self-efficacy and how is their self-image?

All these guidelines can assist a parent to determine how emotionally intelligent their child currently is, and do something about it, she says.