We all worry about our kids’ academics. Are they keeping up with their classmates? Even better, are they excelling above their classmates? We stuff them full of extracurricular activities, like tutoring sessions and language classes and music lessons meant to stimulate the brain and eventually help them get into a better college. But researchers say we may be forgetting something. Turns out that your kid’s EQ is just as important as their IQ.
Your kid’s EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient, is “the ability to identify our feelings and emotional responses, regulate them, and empathize with others’ feelings,” Marc Brackett, the founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of the new book Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive, told The Washington Post.
Basically, your kid’s EQ has to do with the way they process their own feelings and empathize with other people’s feelings. That’s a huge deal, especially in the corporate world, where people are more and more frequently driven out of their cubicles to work on collaborative projects. According to Develop Dimensions International (DDI), a global leadership firm, empathy ranks as the number one skill in leadership success — and people in the business world are starting to realize it.
Your kid’s EQ has to do with the way they process their own feelings and empathize with other people’s feelings.
In fact, DDI says, “Leaders who master listening and responding with empathy will perform more than 40 percent higher in overall performance, coaching, engaging others, planning and organizing, and decision making.” Your kid’s EQ could be making an enormous difference when it comes to effectiveness in the job world.
Meanwhile, Marc Brackett tells The Washington Post that “building emotional intelligence is a straightforward way to enhance physical and mental health, memory, decision-making, relationships, creativity, grades and job performance.” So the higher your kid’s EQ, the better they’ll do in school, and the better they’ll do socially. Their happiness and success outside the classroom will lead to better performance in it. Some schools do teach some of this, calling it “socio-emotional learning” and including things like “decision-making and communication.”
Parents often assume schools take care of this stuff — and they don’t. It’s up to parents to do it. This is not as hard as it sounds. We’ve got some tips for you from The Washington Post on how to do it.
1. Make sure you regulate your own emotions, and show your own EQ.
Keep your cool as much as you can. Talk through processing your own emotions, and when you inevitably screw up, admit it. Identify your emotions (use “I feel … because …” phrases if you have a hard time with that, because they’re short, simple, and easy for kids to grab hold of). When you lose your temper with your kids, apologize. This doesn’t make you a weak leader. It makes you a strong enough leader to show your vulnerability and yet continue to lead. Wow.
2. Start to expect EQ from your kids.
It won’t happen overnight, The Washington Post warns. And you’ll need to give gentle reminders about your kid’s EQ — they won’t wake up knowing to pick up toys after a playdate. You’ll have to say, “When we leave Miss Chelsea’s, we help pick up the toys we played with so she doesn’t have to.” You’ll have to say, “Nana made us dinner, let’s draw her pictures to say thank-you,” or “Your brother looks sad. Maybe you could see if you could make him feel better,” or “What do we say?” after you order in a restaurant. But eventually, it’ll pay off. And remember: you have to do this stuff too.
3. You should also point out EQ.
To do that, figure out what your kid’s EQ is, and work from there. My oldest has a better tolerance for frustration than my younger son, who melts down if he can’t do something. But my middle son is more likely to introduce himself to other people. Decide what your kid needs to work on and help them with it, especially pointing out situations that have to do with those points that need help. Things like “wow, so-and-so really worked hard without getting frustrated!” can help a lot — and it’ll help your kid’s EQ even more if you can point out small improvement they make. Talk about the good things you see around you: “I like how your whole team clapped to encourage so-and-so. It’s good when people support one another.” Also point out examples of low EQ: “So-and-so doesn’t know how to play with other kids very well when he pushes and shoves, especially after you tell him to stop.”
4. Talk about empathy.
Empathy is hard. But your kid’s EQ depends on it. We need to ask, especially in conflicts, “How do you think that made the other person feel?” The Washington Post recommends that when a child has a conflict, ask them “to consider how it made the other child feel, even considering body language and facial expressions.”
You can’t stick them with a once-a-week tutor and pray. While some extracurricular activities, like team sports, may enhance a kid’s EQ by making them “play well with others,” those same team sports could possibly decrease it if they come with derogatory attitudes towards other teams, bullying attitudes, overcompetitiveness, etc. I feel like my kids’ EQ is getting a serious workout on their diving team — an individual sport — because they see the culture of encouragement there. Everyone cheers on their teammates’ achievements (when my oldest went off the 3-meter board for the first time the whole team stopped and clapped), older kids help the younger ones, and kids go out of their way to make sure other kids feel included, and kids who fall down are okay. That’s serious EQ at work: and my kids are absorbing that as much as they’re absorbing the rudiments of diving.
5. Understand the limits of EQ.
Obviously, your child’s EQ will depend on their own capabilities. If your child is neurodivergent, they may have difficulty reading others’ emotions and controlling their own. My kids have ADHD, for example, and emotional regulation can be a challenge — not because they don’t try, but because their brains are wired differently than other children’s. The same goes for children who have varying degrees of autism or similar syndromes. It’s important we don’t expect more from our kids than they’re capable of.
A high EQ will help your kid succeed — not just in school, but afterwards. It’s time we started paying attention to these so-called “soft” skills like the ability to cooperate, to regulate emotions, to solve problems, to identify feelings, and to work through them in healthy ways. These are the ways our kids will grow into healthy, productive adults — no matter what career they choose, nuclear physicist or otherwise. We all want our kids, most of all, to be happy.
A high EQ is an important way to help them get there.