Studies show that emotional intelligence plays a bigger role in your child’s future success than his IQ. And unlike IQ, emotional intelligence is something that can be learnt, writes Sara-lea Wessels
FROM DAY ONE you can put the building blocks in place to help your child make friends, have empathy, solve problems, hold his own against bullies, be assertive, develop leadership qualities and handle the emotional challenges of modern life. You may wonder how as a parent you can do all that. After all, emotional intelligence may sound like a foreign concept because intelligence is generally not associated with feelings.
According to Doret Kirsten, a clinical psychologist at the University of the North-west, emotional intelligence can be described as the ability to use knowledge of your own and others’ emotions to make positive adjustments to your environment.
Kirsten says emotional intelligence helps you solve problems and function at your best.
“If you can read and understand your own emotions, you can regulate and handle them,” she explains.
A highly intelligent person might for instance make a poor decision because he or she can’t understand how other people might feel about the matter. On the other hand, people who are emotionally intelligent are sometimes more successful, even though they may not be smarter, than others.
Good leaders are often emotionally intelligent.
In his book The New Leaders, American author and psychologist Daniel Goleman writes that emotional intelligence comprises four traits:
* SELF-AWARENESS * SELF-REGULATION * EMPATHY AND * SOCIAL SKILLS
SELF-AWARENESS means that you can read your own emotions correctly, know your strong and weak points and have selfconfidence. SELF-REGULATION, in turn, implies that you’re in control of your emotions, optimistic, flexible when circumstances do change and can push yourself to higher heights and act when opportunities arise. EMPATHY means you can read the undercurrents in politics and organisations or groups and you’re willing to render a service. SOCIAL SKILLS cover how you influence others, manage conflict, go about making changes, work in a team and strengthen ties.
Goleman says emotional intelligence is not necessarily something you’re born with but it is something that can
be learnt. And you can start teaching your baby these skills from early on in his life as this will help him to one day predict other people’s emotions and understand and regulate his own – a winning recipe for successful interaction with other people.
“People who have a higher emotional intelligence have warmer and closer relationships and are able to handle difficult situations a lot better, “says Kirsten.
Think of angry episodes you may have witnessed. The moment someone loses control of their emotions and starts shouting or even becomes physically violent, people lose respect for them.
Your child can only begin to learn the social aspects of emotional intelligence (empathy and social skills) when he’s a toddler, but qualities such as selfawareness and self-regulation can be learnt from birth. Here’s how you should go about it, advises Kirsten: START WITH YOURSELF From about nine months, babies start to accurately read emotions in their parents’ facial expressions. Your baby will learn to manage his own emotions by how you manage yours. If you handle problems with fits of rage or uncontrolled behaviour, your child will most likely copy that one day. Remember how quickly children seem to learn language – the same goes for behaviour. If you’re having a rushed moment and you wonder how on earth you’re going to get everything done, remember that your baby can feel the underlying tension. Show him how to deal with the situation by sitting down for two minutes and saying how you feel. Say something like, “I feel rushed and I am worried that I won’t get everything done in time, but I’m going to breathe deeply and take it step by step” while you smile at baby. Set an emotionally intelligent example for your baby from the start. RECOGNISE AND ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR BABY’S EMOTIONS Remember that your baby’s not able to express his emotions in language just yet. Notice his facial expressions, movements and crying. These are attempts at telling you how he feels and what his emotions are.
A baby that’s left to cry learns that his needs or emotions aren’t important. Acknowledge that your baby has emotions and needs, meet his needs, and try and understand his emotions.
When they become older, boys are often suppressed emotionally. They’re taught they’re not allowed to cry and always have to be strong and that they’re not allowed to feel pain or be sad. Don’t deprive your child, especially your boy, of his emotions by having these expectations. Rather strengthen his emotions, so that he can better understand the emotions of others and also understand his own feelings. CREATE AN EMOTIONALLY SAFE ENVIRONMENT Soothe your child, touch him, talk to him and show him with your facial expressions that you enjoy being with him. If you’re with him, you feel happiness. And even if he’s still a baby, you can start teaching him the names of emotions.
Some people cry when they’re angry, yet crying is associated with sadness. Teach him not to hide one emotion inside another one such as by crying when he’s actually angry.
DESCRIBE THE EMOTION
Tell your baby what emotion you’re reading in his face. In this way he learns to voice his own emotions when he starts talking and will be able to better express himself.
If he starts laughing and becomes excited at the sight of his Gogo, say, “You’re happy to see Granny, look at how you’re grinning” or “You’re excited when Ouma comes to visit because you wave your arms.”
If something or someone makes you angry, don’t scold – rather describe how you feel in the moment. Rather than call someone an idiot, say that you’re angry with him.
DON’T SCUPPER YOUR BABY’S EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Parents who aren’t emotionally intelligent themselves can ruin their children’s emotional intelligence. A baby learns from the example you set and mimics you.
An environment where there’s emotional, physical or verbal abuse smothers the development of emotional intelligence. These kind of circumstances are detrimental to adults, and even more so to babies and children. You’ll also find respect for the emotions of others missing in these situations.
In a nutshell: Teach your child from the get-go that emotions are things you can’t choose, like your arms, for instance, but you do have a choice about how you’re going to be using them. YB