Emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to manage both your own emotions and understand the emotions of people around you. 

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It involves being able to notice, understand and act on emotions in a meaningful way. Imagine eight-year-old Ama struggling with her Math homework. She can choose to yell and give up or call mummy for help because she’s frustrated.

These responses may seem insignificant, but can become a handful if the negative responses persist and become a habit. These responses belong to the set of skills known as emotional intelligence (EI).

IQ tests cannot measure this kind of intelligence which is needed to navigate through our challenges and to connect positively to the people around us. The ability to understand other people and work with them is as critical to success in today’s world.

Having successful friendships and romantic relationships also confers enormous benefits in health, wealth, happiness, longevity and the success of one’s children. This is why we need to be emotionally intelligent too and not merely focused on academic prowess.

Emotional intelligence

Loving and supportive parenting is made possible and easy by emotional intelligence. Interestingly, there are two groups of parents that are very different in the way they think about emotions.

This is partly due to what they have learned in their own upbringing. Parents can be either emotion dismissing or emotion coaching. Emotion dismissing parents see emotions as potentially destructive in themselves and in their children and so do not want to be emotional or entertain emotions.

For them, people must just be action-oriented. Emotion coaching parents on the other hand are accepting of emotions and love to explore emotions in themselves and others.

Differences in educational achievements of children of same age groups, among other factors, can be associated with the kind of parents involved in their lives.

Guide

Emotions are our own internal guide through life. Opening up on our emotional world and being emotional has tremendous benefits to both physical and mental well-being. To understand yourself and why you act the way you do, it is important to understand how you feel about emotions. Being emotional does not make one irrational. And that is what emotion dismissing parents must learn.

It is possible to be both emotional and logical. That is the balance needed to make an impact in life. It is a normal part of parenting to be angry, hurt, disappointed, tense, frustrated and so on.

Emotional intelligence teaches us to model a positive approach to handling our own emotions. Children will likely notice this and learn same from us.

Coaching

Emotion coaching begins at birth. Babies can understand language long before they can talk. By ten months of age, emotion coaching parents are narrating their children’s play, asking them questions, communicating empathy, and giving reasons for saying “yes” or “no.”

This has major consequences for the baby’s development as they learn across all developmental domains. This is where they begin the serve and return interactions. Serve and return works like a game of tennis between child and caregiver.

The child ‘serves’ by initiating interactions through gestures, babbling, eye contact or even a touch. The emotional coach of a parent ‘returns the serve’ by speaking back, sharing a laugh or toy.

Where a child serves and no one steps up to return, the brain architecture of that child begins to weaken over time. There is consequently impairment of milestones, behaviour and even physical health.

It is never too late to become an emotion coaching parent. Emotional intelligence can be cultivated and learned at any point in life, by anyone, to their benefit and the benefit of those they interact with.

The writer is a Child Development Expert/ Fellow at Zero-to-three Academy, USA.
E-mail: [email protected]

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