Children are amazing. They may not know many book facts, statistics, great works of literature or accomplishments of science, but they do know things that help them explore the world around them. Just as some children have more talent for physical activity or for creating things, some children can be more talented than others at emotional intelligence, and it shows at a young age.
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a set of skills that allows people to recognize, cope with, and manifest emotions in a productive way. It has been shown to improve the lives of children and is a predictor of student success, both in school and after graduation.
While EQ is desirable in a child and we might all wish our children would display the signs of it at a young age, it is still an important set of skills to teach. Even if a child is very emotionally intelligent, EQ is a lifelong practice that needs to be maintained continuously. If a child does not have high EQ at a young age, teaching EQ is a process that is simple, and can help parents become emotionally intelligent as well.
Here are five ways young children might manifest EQ:
1. Recognizes Facial Expressions of Emotion
An emotionally intelligent child notices facial expressions and can understand their meaning. They know the outward signs of emotional expression. Later in life this will help them gauge the behavior of those around them based on emotional state, but as pre-K children, these expressions are new and may even be fun. They delight in pointing out facial expressions in photographs or picture books, and can explain what these facial expressions mean.
2. Knows How to Describe Different Emotions
Children who are emotionally intelligent are more than willing to talk about how they are feeling, and can describe those emotions adequately. Pre-K children may not know a lot of words for their emotions, but they can use what words they do know to express how they are feeling. Parents can nurture this with gentle word suggestions or by using a Mood Meter chart, which divides emotional states into four categories based on the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and their RULER model. With a rich emotional vocabulary, children can understand their emotions, a skill which will help them through adulthood as well. However, even young children can find ways to illustrate their emotional state.
3. Can Empathize with Others’ Emotions
With an understanding of their own emotions and the ability to read emotions from people’s facial expressions comes the ability to empathize. Once a child becomes aware of the emotions of others, they can apply knowledge of their own emotional states to the behavior and body language of other people. In small children, this is evoked as concern for other people and animals. They want to see others happy and express concern or try to help when others are suffering. A common tale from parents is of the child who brings home a wounded animal to nurse it back to health. This is a very stark sign of emotional intelligence.
4. Can Control Behavior Regardless of Emotion
Children with high emotional intelligence might seem slow to react to things. They take a look around, assessing the situation before reacting. Their actions are very deliberate and their behavior very observant. Their slow reaction is the result of taking the time to process their emotions and reactions. They consider how to behave before acting.
5. Understand the Cause of Their Emotions
Many adults do not even recognize why their emotional states are the way they are, and psychotherapists make billions each year helping them figure it out. Emotionally intelligent children are self-observant, and recognize the connection between their emotions and the things around them that trigger emotions. They know themselves, and why they feel the way they do, and can speak very confidently about it.
Emotional intelligence is a desirable quality that can help a person throughout one’s entire life, strengthening relationships and improving social skills for people who practice it. Young children who exhibit the above behaviors have a grasp of the tools available to them within their own minds. Nurturing their EQ, and helping them build it, is about more than getting along with others. Even children who do not display these behaviors can be taught EQ at an early age, so all children can and should benefit from this deep self-knowledge. With all of this in mind, what parent wouldn’t want their children to nurture EQ?
To become an advocate for emotional intelligence in the classroom and beyond, join The Big EQ Campaign.