It is with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” — Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Turn on your television. Open one of your social media apps. Pick up a newspaper. Chances are it won’t take long to find programs, comments, clickbait, and headlines screaming about how divisive our nation has become. It seems we’re all screaming for attention about the things that matter to us, but we’re not always willing to step back and understand the emotions and feelings that drive us to stand up (or sit down or kneel, for that matter) for our issues and passions. 

Consider the actions of NFL quarterback and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Before a football game, Kaepernick kneeled on the sidelines to protest police brutality and racial inequality. While some found this behavior insulting and disrespectful to America and its flag, others saw Kaepernick’s actions as a powerful and emotional connection to his feelings surrounding the issue. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” Kaepernick said at the time. In other words, Kaepernick was able to harness the power of emotional intelligence to empathize with those whom he believed to be victims of injustice and inequality.

Is it possible to teach emotional intelligence so that we can all understand each other on a deeper level than the fleeting political arguments and outrage of the day? Let’s first examine what emotional intelligence is and then explore how emotional intelligence education can benefit us when incorporated early in our lives. 

What Is Emotional Intelligence?  

Emotional intelligence (also called Emotional Quotient or EQ), as initially defined in 1990 by psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey, is the ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions, and regulate emotions to promote personal growth.

Five years later, renowned psychologist and bestselling author Daniel Goleman, would expand on the concept of emotional intelligence in his popular book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” Goleman breaks down emotional intelligence into five components: 

    1. Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and understand moods and emotions and their effects on our relationships
    2. Self-regulation: The ability to control disruptive moods or impulses and consider your reactions to a given situation. In other words, think before you speak.
    3. Internal motivation: Seeking rewards from within and not from external sources like personal or professional status, financial gains, or Facebook “likes.” 
    4. Empathy: The ability to understand and share others’ feelings. For example, your friend calls you distraught over her breakup from her boyfriend. Since you, too, parted ways with your significant other, you share your friend’s feelings and can connect on her emotional level. 
    5. Social skills: Applying emotional intelligence practices to your daily interactions with others, including family, friends, and colleagues. Skills such as active listening, verbal communication, and non-verbal communication are essential to building and maintaining healthy relationships. 

Emotional Intelligence Goes to School

Goleman found the most promising application of emotional intelligence is in the form of social and emotional learning (SEL) within schools and educational programs. The goals of SEL for children include:

  • Helping them improve their self-awareness and confidence
  • Managing their disturbing emotions and impulses
  • Increasing their empathy

Goleman says SEL pays off for children in improved behavior and measurable academic achievement. Leading the charge is the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning at the University of Illinois (CASEL). Its goal is to establish high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning, which is an essential part of preschool through high school education. And the results are paying off.

Here are some key SEL research findings from CASEL:

  • SEL leads to academic performance and improved behaviors
  • SEL’s impact is long-term and global
  • SEL can help reduce poverty and improve economic mobility
  • SEL improves lifetime outcomes

Dr. Thomas DeGeorge, PhD, a Philadelphia-based Thriveworks therapist, has witnessed how beneficial EI and SEL is to his clients, including children. DeGeorge incorporates EI into his counseling to help people lead balanced lives and increase their positive social interactions. He also believes EI is a critical aspect in the development of children.

“If a child is lacking emotional awareness, it will have an impact on their daily lives,” says DeGeorge. “Peer relationships and group connections are impacted when children cannot either regulate their own emotions or are unaware of others’ emotions. By helping parents help their children, a therapist can help navigate the difficult balance for families in addressing emotional intelligence.”

If people can effectively incorporate the five components of EI, our social connections — whether they’re face-to-face or online — will significantly benefit people more pleasantly and positively, says DeGeorge. 

How Parents Can Teach Emotional Intelligence At Home

Finally, let’s see how parents can help teach emotional intelligence best practices before their children step foot in the classroom:

  • Talk it out: Parents can discuss positive and negative feelings and emotions with their children by sharing their own feelings.
  • Develop social awareness: This involves parents asking their children to envision how they would feel if they felt the same way as one of their friends or a favorite fictional book character. Parents can then discuss conflict resolution techniques with their children. 
  • Responsible decision making: This tactic is all about consequences. For example, parents can ask their children what might happen if they chose not to wear a coat outside when it’s cold. 

The early application of emotional intelligence and social and emotional learning offers numerous benefits to us as individuals and our lifelong relationships. From academic achievement to improved social and emotional skills to relationships, we can utilize these concepts and practices to understand ourselves and one another better.