Parents are obsessed with IQ. We spike baby formula with fish oil and worry over which infant toys will best increase spatial reasoning. But it looks like even if our kid has published three award-winning novels and engineered a solar-powered moon rover by age 6, we still can't be certain that we have raised the World's #1 Kid. In fact, emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a much better predictor of success, happiness, and healthy relationships. Research shows that EQ-the ability to perceive and manage the emotions of yourself and others-is four times better at predicting professional achievements than IQ, even for PhDs in the sciences, where raw brain power should count the most. EQ also best predicts your child's ability to adapt to new situations, problem solve under stress, and manage conflicts and relationships. High emotional intelligence even reduces the rate at which children get sick. This article won't help you if your only goal is to raise a child that can dominate at chess and solve Rubik's Cubes. But if you want happy, healthy, successful children then perhaps you should slightly shift your focus from neuroscience to nurturing, from chemistry to conflicts, from technology to talking. The following skills should help you improve your child's EQ, perhaps the most important all-around life skill.
- Teach the language of emotions. To develop EQ, your child must first gain awareness of his own emotions, which requires developing the language to describe those emotions. You can build this vocabulary and awareness by identifying and talking about feelings. Push for more than "I hate Tommy, and I am not going to his house again." Try asking, "What did Tommy do?" "How did that make you feel?" "Were you sad?" Your child might not know what sad or hurt or angry is, but by discussing some possible options, he will quickly develop a language-and, more importantly, an awareness-of his feelings.
- Find ways to manage emotions. Recognizing emotions is important, but, "I feel angry, which is why I am hitting my brother," is not quite the end result parents are looking for. So beyond instilling emotional awareness, you also need to teach your children to handle emotions appropriately. It's not that emotions are bad-in fact, they are in large part what make life great-but emotions can also cause inappropriate behaviors or irrational decisions. Talk to your kids to learn how various emotions might affect them. For example, you might discuss why it is unproductive to fight angry. Then teach your kids how they can calm their own emotions if necessary. Successful techniques include physical activity, quiet time, conversations, a distracting task, or deep breathing. Experiment and then encourage the soothing activity that works best. Before you know it, your children will begin incorporating the techniques into their lives even when you aren't around.
- Practice productive conflicts. For most people, the greatest EQ struggle is finding appropriate and productive ways to get their needs met by others. This includes getting a family member to stop leaving out dirty dishes, asking a playmate to share his truck, and negotiating with a boss for a raise. This is a problem for kids, who end up resorting to screaming and throwing things, and for adults, who end up . . . screaming and throwing things. But you can teach your kids important skills to help get what they want (without violence). First, teach your kids to be assertive-that is, how to state what they want clearly and without anger. Second, teach your children how to have productive conflicts and negotiations. This requires keeping emotions in check, listening, articulating the issues clearly, and working to find creative solutions. The best way to teach these techniques is to model them when you and your kids have conflicts.
- Develop a sense of what others are feeling. A high EQ requires empathy, which is the ability to understand another person's point of view. Empathy has many benefits. First, it makes others feel listened to. Good listening increases trust, improves emotional connections, reduces conflicts, and smoothes out emotionally-charged situations. Second, if your kid understands how other people feel about certain situations, your child can react appropriately. For example, some friends might think teasing is fun but others get hurt. Some bosses might like go-getters while others find them aggressive. Some teachers might encourage inquisitive students while others find off-topic questions annoying. If your child can get a sense of how each person feels, she can act appropriately. You can teach empathy by using it when you talk to your child. For example, if your daughter comes to you with something that upsets her, like a bad grade on an exam, don't just immediately start telling her better ways to study. Instead try, "I can really see that this bad grade made you sad. Why do you think it made you sad?" That might be the most satisfying conversation for your daughter. Further, get your kids to practice empathy with you: "How do you think I felt when we made an agreement about curfew, and then you ignored it?"
- Encourage optimism. Optimism is an extremely important factor for success. One study showed optimism was a better predictor of freshman grades at an Ivy League school than either SAT scores or high school grades. This is because optimism reflects students' confidence in their ability to solve problems and gives them the internal emotional support to persevere despite challenges. Studies also show that optimism can be taught. Take time each day to discuss what is going well in your and your child's lives. Further, teach your kid that with hard work, anything is possible. This confidence and positive outlook will help them throughout life.