This Crucial Skill Will Help Your Child Succeed

Emotional intelligence fuels children's school and social success.

Posted Mar 23, 2014

Defiant children tend to lack a trait called emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. A lack of emotional intelligence is basically a lack of emotional maturity and self-awareness. Daniel Goleman popularized the concept of emotional intelligence, which he states is our ability to understand, use, regulate, and manage our emotions as key determinants of our life success and happiness.

Emotional intelligence appears to be a key predictor of children's ability to develop suitable peer relationships, get along at home, develop a well-balanced outlook on life, and to reach their academic potential at school. Being able to manage your feelings is important to learning, attention and memory. The term encompasses the following five characteristics and abilities:

1. Self-awareness- knowing your emotions, recognizing feelings as they occur, and discriminating between them.

2. Mood management- handling feelings so they're relevant to the current situation and you react appropriately

3. Self-motivation- "gathering up" your feelings and directing yourself toward a goal, despite self-doubt, inertia, and impulsiveness

4. Empathy- recognizing feelings in others and tuning into their verbal and nonverbal cues

5. Managing relationships- handling interpersonal interaction, conflict resolution, and negotiations

Chances are if your child is struggling he or she has lower than normal levels of emotional intelligence, which is a big reason why life is so difficult for him or her. In short, your child's lower EQ limits his or her ability to use two key coping skills: calming down and solving problems. Therefore, many of the things your child "chooses" not to do (e.g., be more self-aware, considerate of others, and control his impulses) may actually be things he can't do---at this time. The more you understand your child's emotional immaturity and limitations, the more you can begin to work around them rather than clash with them.

I encourage your to think of yourself as your child's emotion coach. By viewing yourself in this way and taking on this role, you can inspire and teach thinking skills involved in emotional intelligence. You may ask, "Yes, but isn't he just born predisposed to a certain temperament?" The answer is, "Yes" but research in neuroplasticity maps how our brains are changing as we learn and grow. A child's genetic makeup may lean toward moody or consistently mellow, shy or outgoing, risk-taking or cautious, optimistic or pessimistic. This being the case, still don't overlook how you can help your child to stretch and grow and gain EQ, 

Here’s three ways to help your child learn to be more emotionally intelligent:

Coach him to realize when he is stressed The first step to reducing stress is recognizing what stress feels like. Share how your body feels when you are under stress and ask your child or teen what goes on for them. You could also share the quote by Sir William Osler: “Our bodies weep the tears our eyes refuse to shed.” You could ask questions such as, “How does your body feel when you’re stressed? Are your muscles or stomach tight or sore? Are your hands clenched? Is your breath shallow? Teach your child how being aware of your physical response to stress will help regulate tension when it occurs.

Help your child Identify her stress response – Everyone reacts differently to stress. If your child tends to become angry or agitated under stress, she will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet her down. If she tends to become depressed or withdrawn, she will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating. If she tends to freeze—speeding up in some ways while slowing down in others—she’ll need stress relief activities such as giving a pet affection and attention that provides both comfort and stimulation.

Encourage your child/teen to discover the stress-busting techniques that work for him – The best way to reduce stress quickly is by engaging one or more of your senses: sight, sound, smelll, taste, and touch. Each person responds differently to sensory input, so you need to find things that are soothing and/or energizing to you. For example, if your child is visual person he can relieve stress by surrounding himself with uplifting images. If he responds more to sound, you may find a wind chime, a favorite piece of music, or the sound of a water fountain helps to quickly reduce his stress levels.

Be patient, as emotional intelligence does not increase in just a few days. Remember not to take it personally when your child is reactive and defiant, To bypass your child's lack of emotional intelligence, it is helpful for you to be calm, firm, and non-controlling as I describe in my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child.


Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over twenty-two years’ experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared twice on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS eyewitness news Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), 10 Days to Less Distracted Child (Perseus Books 2007), Liking the Child You Love (Perseus Books 2009) and Why Can’t You Read My Mind? (Perseus Books 2003).