According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ, there are 4, sometimes 5, components of emotional intelligence (EI), which are further broken down into 12 competencies. These components apply not only to leadership and self-improvement, for which they’ve gained recognition, but they are also applicable to parenting. Sometimes number 3, self-motivation, is incorporated into self-regulation, but in the context of parenting, I believe it’s worth talking about on its own.
In last week’s article, I discussed the importance and benefits of learning EI at a young age. I even discussed some strategies for parents to work on these skills at home, so check out that article here if you haven’t done so already. Today, however, I want to look at the 5 components of emotional intelligence and how these skills can be cultivated by parents and/or caregivers.
Self-awareness as a parent means you have an accurate perception of your strengths and weaknesses. It tracks one’s ability to recognize what sets them apart, and what their limitations are. For a parent, this is a constant question with no one right answer. What can be strengths for one family could be considered limitations in another. What’s important to keep in mind is an awareness of your own values and beliefs and how they shape your impression of what constitutes good parenting and proper development.
In order to strengthen your child’s self-awareness, I recommend starting with something simple: a daily journal or diary. This can be a great way for your child to form not only awareness of their actions, but also awareness of their emotions. Writing down how they feel at different points in the day, especially on a particularly difficult or triumphant day, can establish baselines of emotion that they will be able to recognize in the future. This brings us to the second component, self-regulation. For more ideas on activities you can try out at home, check out the Hoppy & Poppie free starter guide here.
For parents, self-regulation is about staying in control, no matter the situation. When the kids are screaming in the backseat and you’re late to work, how you react to the situation matters. Do you lose your temper and shout at your kids? Do you silently fume and bottle up the frustration? Or do you laugh it off and use it as an opportunity to teach the importance of punctuality? Kids absorb a lot more than we give them credit for and from a very early age they can sense changes in emotion. By displaying positivity or level-headedness, you are role-modeling what self-regulation looks like in action.
Once a child has learned to recognize emotions and behaviors associated with those emotions, they can learn how to regulate them. This may seem more beneficial for parents than for toddlers, but learning how to regulate your own emotions is a critical skill that carries well into adulthood. The world is full of distractions and this is especially true for kids, especially when it comes to entertainment. Check out what PBS recommends for activates that promote self-regulation. They suggest everything from Yoga to bubble blowing to reading a favorite book and I couldn’t agree more; balancing screen time and stimulating entertainment is part of healthy growth.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but motivation is key. Well, it’s true. The world runs on the backs of motivated individuals and organizations and it is not an easy skill to learn. That’s why, as a parent, it’s crucial to start encouraging motivation from a young age. The philosophy of how this is best accomplished is certainly not an exact science and it requires syncopation between goal-setting, positive thinking, and resilience.
There are countless methods for cultivating motivation at a young age and some of them are outlined in this Harvard resource page. All 9 resources are great pieces of advice, but I’ll focus on number 8, which says, “Praise the process rather than the outcome.” This is a lesson for both parents and kids. Ask any successful person and they’ll tell you that success is built on the back of repeated failures. If you prioritize results over process, your child may come to resent or fear failure. By encouraging your child to enter into contests, competitions, performances, recitals, and the like, your child will come to learn that failure is not a limitation, but a defining part of growing up.
Empathy is critical for anyone looking to improve their EI. The ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes is the start of true compassion. The world would be a better place if everyone had a little more empathy. But for parents, empathy is tricky and often tempered based on the age of their child.
What I mean by this is that when a child is young, empathizing is not always the appropriate response. During a temper tantrum or emotional outburst, a child may not respond logically to empathy; sometimes they just need to scream it out. After all, toddlers are not always logical and it’s important for parents to remember that. The focus of empathy for parenting should be cultivating and inspiring your child to grow their potential for empathy. But empathy is difficult to evaluate and even more difficult to teach.
At a young age, empathy is best learned by role-modeling. Displays of empathy and conversations around those displays are one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to incorporate empathy into daily life. Donate your time to plant a tree with your kids. Organize a bake sale to support a local charity or good cause. Discuss what you’re doing and why you’re doing. Who is this charity helping? Why is it good to help others? These are all great questions that a child will respond to.
Whatever your display of empathy looks like, it will leave an impression on your kids. The important thing to remember is that it’s not so much teaching empathy as it is inspiring it. My favorite quote on this is from Mary Gordon of Roots of Empathy who says, “Empathy is caught, not taught.”
5. Social Skills
Our list ends with social skills, but don’t think that means they’re any less important than the rest. Social skills are an umbrella term for competence in conversations and interactions that are governed by verbal and nonverbal social rules. For parents, this can be communication skills or conflict resolution, but these are just two aspects of social skills. Often, this is something that parents work with their children on a lot, sometimes without even realizing it. But for parents looking to specifically nurture these skills, there are a few things you can do.
Playtime is a key way that kids develop social skills. Whether it’s playing house, or doctor, or chef, kids will often reenact what they see around them. This is a great way for them to learn and practice what emotions and social skills look like in the real world. Other social games include cooperative building games, emotion charades, and a whole host of other options. Here’s a list of evidence-based activities that are shown to improve social skills from Positive Action that I really love.
The 5 components of emotional intelligence are a great guideline for growth-minded parents. The goal for our kids should be to help them grow up to be independent, mindful, and successful in whatever they choose to do. Starting in infancy, the decisions you make about what you expose your child to and how you act around your child are going to matter, sometimes more than you think. I hope this list has been useful to all of you out there and I can’t wait to hear about how you incorporate EI into your parenting. Let me know below and remember, no matter which component you choose to work on first, you’re making a difference in your child’s future.