Do you have a bright teenage child who is nevertheless struggling at school or having difficulty socially? Your child's IQ and SAT scores probably aren't the culprit. Child education psychologists agree that EQ—or emotional intelligence—has much more influence on your child's success, now and in the future.
Emotional intelligence, first described by Peter Salovey and John Mayer, two Yale University psychologists in 1990, refers to five main emotional competency areas:
Emotional self-awareness: recognizing, naming, and understanding the cause of one's feelings;
Handling emotions appropriately: demonstrating productive options for managing stress and upsetting feelings rather than "acting-out" negatively;
Self-motivation: thinking, planning, and solving problems by using impulse control, frustration tolerance, and delayed gratification to reach a specific goal;
Empathy: recognizing and understanding emotions in others; andSocial skills: handling emotions in relationships and interacting harmoniously with others.
As a parent, you can help your child develop her EQ. It's never too late—and your child is never too old—for you to begin talking with her, asking her sensitive questions, listening to her responses, and offering gentle guidance or advice. Teenagers often get less physical touch and less one-on-one intimate conversation time with their parents than younger kids and toddlers do. And although they are good at hiding it, teens crave parenting.
To help a teen boost his EQ, look at each of the five competencies above, and use them as a framework to observe your child's behavior. Perhaps your child cursed up a blue streak when he didn't get what he wanted. Or he failed to notice that you were very tired and stressed out after dinner when he had all his demands. Consider such behaviors teaching moments. Give him a hint about a different way to handle or look at the situation. Instead of telling him how to behave, however, ask him what he noticed, felt, or wanted. By gently pointing out new ways to interact with others, you give your teen an opportunity to learn and practice some new skills.
To reinforce these behaviors, don't forget to praise your teen when she is exceptionally kind, or intuitive about another's feelings, or is patient, flexible, or communicative. Little by little, your bright teen can grow into an emotionally brilliant adult.
Charlotte Reznick PhD is a child educational psychologist, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA, and author of the LA Times bestselling book The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee/Penguin, 2009). In addition to her private practice, she creates therapeutic relaxation CDs for children, teens, and parents, and teaches workshops internationally on the healing power of children's imagination. You can find out more about her at http://www.imageryforkids.com