toddler and mom laughing while reading a book together on the couch

Emotional Intelligence: Why is It Important? How Can You Teach It?

There was hardly an aspect of human life that wasn’t impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in one way or another.

Communication went virtual, education happened at home, literally everything changed.

As the world works towards recovery, a lot of emphasis has been placed on regaining financial stability, re-establishing workplace norms, and helping students to catch up on the educational curriculum that they missed out on.

While for adults, two years of disruption was a relatively small proportion of their lives, for children those two years were vitally important.

Youth is a time of great change and development and even that relatively short period of disruption has likely had a bigger impact on young ones than we may at first think.

Besides the knowledge they may have missed out on, children suffered a disruption that caused stunted growth in a much more vital area: emotional intelligence.

In the information to follow we will discuss what emotional intelligence is, the facets of it, why it is important, and how it can be taught.

toddler with pigtails laughing at the camera

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, known as EI, is basically the intelligence surrounding emotions. It involves the abilities to not only see and understand others emotions, but also to show and control one’s own emotions.

Emotional intelligence helps individuals to communicate with and relate to others successfully. Interestingly, some experts even say that emotional intelligence (EQ) is more valuable than cognitive intelligence (IQ) and leads to greater success and fulfilment in life.

Emotional intelligence is an essential skill to be able to navigate the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of human life, a door that opens to improved friendships, better learning, academic and employment success. 

Facets of Emotional Intelligence

Both parents and schools can encourage the development of emotional intelligence by helping their children and students to explore its main facets.

We will briefly take a look at five main skills and how to teach them. 

Skill: Active Listening. Active listening is vital to successful two way communication and it involves more than simple listening and paying attention.

Active listening involves action, following what a person is saying and using your own body language and verbal communication to respond to what has been said and show understanding.

Attention needs to be given completely with all distractions put to the side. Interruptions and disagreements should be minimal, besides questions to check that the understanding is correct.

Truly listening involves hearing not just words but the message conveyed by the words along with tone of voice and body language.

How to Teach: Help students to see what active listening involves and provide opportunities to practice these skills.

Encourage students to evaluate their own listening skills, and set up activities where students take turns listening to each other and repeating what the other person said. At home, set an example by modeling good listening skills yourself.

Skill: Expression of Feelings. Research shows that interpersonal skills can be improved when students have the vocabulary that they need to express their emotions.

Each vocabulary word that a child can learn gives them more tools to express their feelings and develop their emotional intelligence. They need to learn more than simply sad and happy, but also how to differentiate between similar emotions. 

How to Teach: In the classroom, set up an alphabet game where students see how many emotion words they can come up with every letter. Once this list has been made, discuss the differences and the appropriate responses for each emotion.

At home, encourage children to express their emotions by asking them to explain how they feel and offering vocabulary suggestions to help them.  

Skill: Self-Awareness. Self-awareness is a vital skill that enables us to recognize our own feelings and actions and understand how we appear to others that we interact with.

It stops us from developing a prideful, over inflated view of ourselves that could warp the way we interact and behave in social situations. 

How to Teach: Encourage self-reflection by asking children to use questions to ponder over their own actions and thoughts. How could I have reacted differently? What other approach could I have taken? Where can I improve? 

Skill: Showing Empathy. Empathy is a skill that many think you are simply born with, yet it is something you can be taught and practice in order to improve in it.

It is the ability to understand someone else’s perspective, acknowledge their feelings and show compassion without judgement. 

How to Teach: Evidence suggests that reading helps children to develop empathy, as stories bring emotions to life, encouraging young ones to better understand their own feelings and those of others too.

Furthermore, it’s important for role models to set an example in showing empathy. Parents can show empathy to others and to their children too, using phrases like “I understand” or “I realize” which will help the young one to know how to express empathy while also experiencing how it feels to be shown empathy too. 

Skill: Regulating Emotions. One of the best ways to support students emotionally is to help them be able to manage and regulate their own thoughts and feelings.

Teenagers are known for their lack of impulse control and their desire to seek attention, so developing the ability to self-regulate early one will help youths to manage more complicated emotions, likely powered by hormones, in the future. 

How to Teach: A lot of emotional regulation comes down to being able to see things from different perspectives, to view challenges as opportunities rather than threats.

It takes patience and time to develop the ability to manage emotions, as it is a gradual process that both children and tutors need to work together on. 

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important?

Just as with every other discipline, it’s important to establish an emotional intelligence curriculum, a regime of learning that can happen in both the classroom and in the home.

It helps to create well-rounded, emotionally mature children who can better process their own feelings while also understanding the feelings of others.