Many parents end up focusing more on their child’s academic achievements than they do on their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence — or “EQ,” as it’s sometimes called — is made up of five components: self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, social skills and intrinsic motivation, according to psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman, who popularised the concept in his 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”
Some research has shown that kids with high emotional intelligence tend to be more engaged in school, have better relationships and get better grades. As adults, people with higher emotional intelligence also tend to have higher-quality relationships, improved mental health and more positive feelings about their jobs.
“The great news is that emotional intelligence is not just a ‘gift,’” Michele Borba, educational psychologist and author of “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World,” told HuffPost. “It’s actually a skill, one that can be taught to children, starting when they’re as young as toddlers, though the seeds are planted even earlier in how we relate and respond to our infants.”
Parents who model and encourage emotional intelligence at home can help their kids cultivate these skills, too.
“A child needs an environment where they can feel comfortable expressing their inner worlds,” said child psychologist Dustin Plattner. “Parents get the wonderful job of being curious and ready to allow them space for expression. This sets the stage.”
We asked experts to share the habits of kids with high EQs. Here’s what they said:
1. They use their vocabulary to identify their emotions.
Children with high emotional intelligence are adept at recognising and verbally labelling their emotions beyond just “good” and “bad.”
“For example, ‘I feel sad I cannot hang out with my friends,’ ‘I feel so excited I got a new bike,’ ‘I feel really mad at my teacher,’ or ‘I feel scared when dad travels overnight,’” Plattner said.
2. And they recognise those emotions in others, too.
Emotionally intelligent children can accurately sense how other people are feeling, often by picking up on nonverbal cues.
“Before you can empathise, you have to be able to read someone else’s emotions,” Borba said. “For example: ‘She is smiling — I bet she’s happy,’ ‘Her body is slumped over — maybe she’s tired’ or ‘He’s crying: maybe I should help’ so you can tune into their feelings.”
3. They see things from other people’s points of view.
Youngsters with higher levels of emotional intelligence are able to step into another person’s shoes, feel what they’re feeling and see the world from their perspective, Borba said.
“Mastering perspective-taking is an important part of instilling a deep, caring connection with others,” she said. “It’s also a habit that children need for every part of life — from handling playground disputes today to mastering boardroom debates tomorrow.”
“When kids can grasp another’s perspective, they are more likely to be empathetic, handle conflicts peacefully, be less judgmental, value differences, speak up for those who are victimised and act in ways that are more helpful, comforting and supportive of others,” Borba added.
4. They’re quick to help others.
Kids with high emotional intelligence tend to be more considerate of others and look for ways they can help, whether that means lending a hand around the house, befriending the new kid in their class or spending time volunteering on the weekends. They focus more on the “we” than the “me.”
“Of course, there are the boys and girls this comes naturally to. But many American children — especially those of privilege — benefit from doing service projects whether it’s raising money for the less fortunate, baking a cake for an elderly neighbour or making cards for people in assisted living,” said educator Maureen Healy, founder of Growing Happy Kids and author of “The Emotionally Healthy Child.” “Habits of helping others also include doing chores around the house, and being part of the family team versus a solo player.”
5. They use tools to manage their emotions.
Even adults have trouble self-soothing when stressful, upsetting or frustrating situations arise. Kids with high emotional intelligence are better able to regulate their feelings in more productive ways so they don’t spiral out of control.
“Children begin highly reactive, but with guidance, instruction and practice, boys and girls begin to use tools of positive emotional health,” Healy said. “Some of those tools may be taking deep breaths, walking away when agitated or learning to use their words to say, ‘I need a break’ versus yelling when angry.”
Children with higher EQs are also generally less reactive and impulsive than their peers. They’re able to pause before they act on their emotions.
“They can recognise their feelings — happy, sad, mad, scared and shame — and understand what their need is in the moment,” Plattner said. “Action then comes from this emotional understanding rather than acting based on an in-the-moment impulse.”
6. They’re comfortable saying “no” to their peers.
Children with high emotional intelligence are more capable of setting and enforcing personal boundaries. If, for example, they don’t want to roughhouse with a friend, they can speak up and express that wish in a firm but kind way.
“Typically, these youths can maintain reasonable limits, [show] proper respect of others, are assertive and listen to their emotions,” said psychotherapist Brandon Jones.
7. They practise gratitude.
“Many families go around the table at dinner and saying one thing they’re appreciative from the day — from pizza at lunch to petting the neighbour’s pet pig,” Healy said.