Ways to Improve Emotional Intelligence

Improve Emotional Intelligence

Your Emotional IQ

When you are in a group, do you usually know how people feel about each other? When you're upset, do you know why? Do you feel uncomfortable in highly-charged situations?

Our answers to these, and many other questions, can help determine our Emotional Intelligence, or EQ.

Understanding and controlling our emotions, as well as assessing the emotions of others and responding appropriately, is a critical life skill that impacts our ability to function in life, maintain relationships, and have successful interactions.

Psychologists John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey define Emotional Intelligence as the “ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions.” They identified four areas of Emotional Intelligence, which we can use to teach our kids – and boost our own EQ.

1. Noticing Emotions.

To understand emotions, we have to be able to accurately detect them, to look for clues from body language and facial expressions and listen for verbal cues. To help your kids:

  • Find books or games that demonstrate different facial expressions. Ask, “What emotion does this picture show?” or, “What do you think this person feels?”
  • Point out emotions – in friends, in family, in yourself, and in your kid. Take the teachable moment. “I could tell that Sarah was sad today. Did you notice that she sat quietly and played by herself all afternoon?”
  • Talk about how you feel. When kids notice your emotions, especially sadness, quash the urge to say, “I'm fine.” Instead, try, “Yes, I'm sad. Thanks for noticing.” If they seem worried, add, “But everything will be fine. Being sad is part of life.”

2. Reasoning with Emotion.

When we're aware of our emotions, we have terrific decision-making tools. Again, noticing and talking are the keys:

  • When children have a decision to make, don't give them advice.  Help them evaluate their options based on their feelings.  “How would it feel if you choose this option?”  “Would this other option make you feel better or worse?” 

3. Understanding Emotions.

What is the real cause of someone's emotion? That's a hard one!

  • Create stories about strangers while you're waiting in line or at a restaurant – just make sure you're out of earshot of the other people! Talk about how you think they are feeling about their fictitious situation. An example: “They are on their honeymoon, and she's really annoyed because she just discovered he snores.”
  • When your kids take other people's reactions personally, help them consider another perspective. “I know Grandpa sounded angry last night, but I don't think he was really mad at you. I wonder what else could be going on with him?"

4. Managing Emotions.

Managing emotions can be tough; for those with ADHD, self-regulation is a tremendous challenge.

  • Talk through the process of shifting emotions.  “Wow, you are really angry right now! What could you do that would help you calm down?” Do it for yourself as well, and then tell your kids about it. “Mom needs a time-out right now to calm down.”
  • Find teachable moments.  When you lose your cool, take responsibility and apologize for it as soon as possible.  Talk with your kids about how easy it is to get upset when our buttons get pushed. Reacting emotionally is normal and automatic, but we can also work on changing our responses.  Help your kids learn that they are in charge of how they respond. That will help them learn to manage more effectively.

Most importantly, talk about emotions.  Regular discussions about how emotions show up and impact our day are as important as “How was school?” It will go a long way to help turn the emotional “uh-oh”s into emotional intelligence.