What is emotional intelligence and why should you promote it in your children?

The first ones to develop the concept of emotional intelligence were the American psychologists Peter Salovey and John D Mayer. In 1990, the authors published an article in which they defined the term as “the ability to accurately perceive, appraise, and express emotion”.

In 1995, New York Times journalist Daniel Goleman published a book that became a world bestseller and put the concept on everyone’s lips. Two years later, in 1997, Mayer and Salovey polished their definition to focus on four emotion-related skills:

Perceiving: The ability to monitor the feelings and emotions of oneself and others.

Understanding: The acquisition of emotional knowledge, identify why emotions are produced, what triggers them and how they are expressed exactly.

Using: The ability to discriminate among feelings and to use this information to guide one’s action and thinking.

Managing: The ability to regulate emotions, self-knowledge and self-control.

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Why is emotional intelligence important?

According to Luz María Peniche Soto, psychoanalyst, author of the book Entender las emociones, una guía para criar hijos sanos y seguros (Understanding Emotions, a Guide for Raising Healthy and Safe Children), people who manage to develop their emotional intelligence “decrease their anxiety, stress, indiscipline and risky behaviors”.

In addition, “they increase their tolerance for frustration, their resilience, and their well-being”.

Luz María Peniche Soto, psychoanalyst

At the beginning of the 21st century, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched emotional learning programs in schools and measured the results before and after the courses.

The conclusion was blunt, it is possible to modify the way in which people process, interpret and manage their emotions.

“Curiously, the countries that continued to promote these programs are well-developed and have a great economic growth, which in some way indicates that emotional intelligence not only has repercussions on mental health, but also on people’s professional and economic success”, explains Luz Maria Peniche.

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How to Teach Emotional Intelligence to Children

Think of emotional intelligence as being aware of feelings, paying attention to them to adapt to the environment and get benefits for both ourselves and others.

Mayer and Salovey propose a model to identify and work on the four branches of emotional intelligence:

  1.  Perception of emotions: Help your children to identify their own emotions and those of others. Not only with words, but also with gestures, postures, tone of voice, behaviors and even art. When they are experiencing an emotion, have them acknowledge it. Ask them what they feel. Have them express the name of the emotion in all its letters. “I’m angry, bored, confused”, “I’m scared, sad”, “I’m happy, excited, intrigued”. Remind them that no emotion is bad and that by identifying it, they can control it.
  2. Understanding emotions: Once children know what they feel, help them analyze the reason for that emotion. That is, what is the relationship between the word that defines what they feel, with what is happening to them. “For example, recognizing that if we feel sadness it is because we had a loss”, says Peniche. This point also includes the ability to recognize changes between emotions. It is possible to go from sadness to anger, from frustration to anger, from joy to tears.
  3. Facilitate thinking: Intense emotions can block our ability to think, so we need to ‘step back’ and calm down a bit to make better decisions. When we are able to make that stop, we can reflect better and solve the factor that catapulted that emotion. The ability to postpone impulses, regulate moods, manage anxiety is also learned. How? Ask your children what they would do if they were someone else, what piece of advice they would give to another person to solve the situation. If they move away, they will find a solution easier.
  4. Manage emotions: When you learn to distance yourself from the emotion, you can have perspective, calm the negative ones and enhance the positive ones without repressing or exaggerating. At this point it is possible to use emotions to guide and improve our behavior. When you use emotions as a stimulus, you facilitate creativity; on the contrary, when you repress them, a depressive state blocks thinking.

Undoubtedly, emotional intelligence is a very interesting topic that we should promote in our little ones.

Translated by: Ligia M. Oliver Manrique de Lara

Spanish version

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