Ash Nayate, Muse Parenting Expert, look at the three most powerful ways to nurture emotional intelligence in young people.
Despite what the brochure for an MBA might have you think, the old adage ‘knowledge is power’ has passed its use-by date. ‘Book smarts’ have been usurped by heart smarts, or ‘emotional intelligence’. While knowledge is important, it requires emotional intelligence to transform it into performance – in relationships, careers, parenting and even self-confidence. The sum of ingredients including self-awareness, the ability to empathise and the capacity to take perspectives other than our own, EQ enables us to maximise our strengths and achieve goals, better overcome life’s challenges and recover from setbacks. Where EQ has it over IQ is that unlike ‘intelligence’, which is considered to be largely heritable, EQ is a skill that can – with patience and practice – be cultivated.
As adults in society and as parents and teachers and carers, we have an opportunity to help young people develop emotional intelligence as they navigate their early years. The most powerful way to teach this is through modelling.
1. FOLLOW THE LEADER
Kids learn by watching – not by listening. The way in which we handle our emotions provides them with a how-to guide. For better or worse, they learn to deal with feelings through our behaviour. If we eat chocolate when we’re stressed, or become verbally aggressive when angry, they’ll take that on. As role models to young children (and I believe that all adults are, to some extent), it’s useful to investigate our own techniques for managing our feelings. Before engaging in a behaviour, we’re wise to ask, ‘Would I want children handling their feelings in this way?’ If not, perhaps it’s time for us to develop new coping skills.
2. OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN
We don’t like making mistakes. It’s human nature. And yet mistakes – or lessons learned through things not going to plan – can indeed be our greatest teachers. If we let them. Rather than repeating what we may have learned about mistakes – many of us have internalised the idea that mistakes are ‘bad’ while right answers are ‘good’ and associated ‘failing at an attempt’ with ‘being a failure – perhaps a more helpful perspective is that mistakes are simply a reflection of our perseverance in the face of setbacks. Really, the only way to learn something is to practise it – and that comes with inevitable errors. Whether we adults try to avoid mistakes, blame others, curse ourselves or beat ourselves up or whether we recognise our errors, own up to them and strive to improve becomes a template. Perseverance in the face of difficulty is a key facet of emotional intelligence.
3. CULTIVATE POSITIVE HABITS
There’s more to emotional intelligence than dealing with setbacks, mistakes and
uncomfortable emotions. Yet unfortunately positive experiences that lead to positive feelings can be lost due to a kind of bias by the brain towards negativity. And without conscious intervention, summoning positive experiences and the accompanying pleasant feelings, this can too easily become a vicious cycle of over-focusing on unpleasant feelings. The good news? This default setting can be re-wired. Research in positive psychology shows that deliberately focusing on the positive aspects of our lives can tremendously improve our mental wellbeing. Even spending a few minutes a day writing down the things we appreciate can have a profound impact on our emotional health. Even if they can’t yet understand the concept of gratitude, we can help kids to cultivate it from an early age by asking questions that elicit a positive perspective such as ‘What was the best thing that happened today?’ As a bonus, hearing children describe their positive experiences prompts us to focus on gratitude in our own lives, improving our emotional intelligence and wellbeing. And, it gives us a unique insight into their perception of the world, and how we can further connect and enhance our relationships with them.