Traditionally, being "smart" has meant having high academic test scores. While this definition may have served us well in the past, for children to succeed in today's world, we need to redefine what "smart" really means.
For generations, families and schools have strived to increase children's IQ scores in order to help them do well in life - in order to make them smarter. However, current social science research tells us that when it comes to predicting future successes, IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and standardized achievement tests may actually matter less than an individual's character, or EI (Emotional Intelligence). In a sense, within a person's EI level lies his or her true smartness.
As Yale psychologist Peter Salovey says, "While IQ defines how smart you are, EI (also known as EQ, or Emotional Quotient) defines how well you use what smarts you have." In other words, your IQ score will get you hired, but your EI score will get you promoted. Why is this? In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., says. "Non-cognitive factors account for about 80 percent of adult success." He goes on to say that EI is two to four times as important to our success and happiness. Fortunately, we all have EI, and we can develop it in our children at an early age.
Keys to Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence isn't a new concept. In the past we've referred to EI as having "social skills" or "people skills," such as empathy, graciousness, and the ability to "read" a social situation.
EI has also been described as self-awareness - the ability to recognize feelings, why you're feeling that way, and the impact your behavior has on others; assertiveness - the ability to clearly express your thoughts and feelings; and independence - the ability to be self-controlled and self-reliant.
Other competencies that describe emotional intelligence are:
- Social Responsibility
- Stress Tolerance
While it appears that anyone can develop emotional intelligence at any age, recent research on brain development suggests that early childhood is a critical period for the development of EI. In fact, research shows that when children develop their emotional intelligence early in life, they are better able to:
- Develop desirable peer, teacher, and family relationships
- Have a well-balanced outlook on life
- Reach their academic potential at school
In addition, current research indicates that a child's ability to get the most out of schooling and education may greatly depend on the quality of his or her relationships with peers and teachers. So being emotionally satisfied and balanced during these difficult years of emotional and academic growth will enhance the quality of children's lives.
Schools all over the nation are taking a zero tolerance approach to undesirable behaviors. Unfortunately, preschools are following their lead. Traditionally, families enrolled their children in preschool so they could play with their peers and learn social skills-so they could develop their emotional intelligence. Now more and more young children are expected to abide by the "rules" (even though they don't yet fully grasp the "rules"). When children are not prepared or able to play by the rules, the outcome can be devastating.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 34 percent of American preschoolers were expelled from their programs in 2004. Walter Gilliam, a Yale University researcher, says, "Expulsion is the most severe disciplinary response that any educational system can impose on a student...and represents the complete cessation of educational services without the benefit of alternative services." So by removing the preschooler from the environment he or she is still learning to master, we are not allowing the child to learn social guidelines and are hindering the child's emotional intelligence development.
And what are preschoolers doing that is so wrong and worthy of expulsion? We can break preschool incidents down to three main offenses: Swearing, biting, and striking another. In some cases, children are expelled after only one incident of hitting or biting. By inflicting a harsh punishment on children who are still developing and learning social guidelines, "We may be missing our very best opportunity to put all children on the path to success in school and life," says Catherine Atkins, President.
Obviously, many preschool programs are simply not prepared to handle children who's behavior is disruptive. In fact, allegations have been made against school systems claiming they are recommending psychiatric drugs for children just to make it easier for the teachers. An article in a 2004 USA Weekend Report stated that the use of ADHD meds in preschoolers has tripled in the past 10 years, and that boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed. This is alarming. Tom Delate, director of research for one of the largest pharmacy benefit-management companies, concurs and says, "We demonstrated an increase in use of antidepressants by children without evidence supporting efficacy and safety" in the young. More research needs to be done into the effect these medications have on a child's developing EI.
The good news is that groundbreaking research suggests that parents can "vaccinate" children against ADHD's behavioral problems early, thus avoiding or dramatically reducing the need for medication and increasing children's EI development. George DuPaul, Ph.D., Director of an innovative new ADHD prevention program, says, "Changing a child's environment can change his brain function...so well, in fact, that the need for medication can be eliminated altogether."
The Way to Go
When it comes to ensuring that our children will have a higher level of emotional intelligence, we have many options to choose from. Starting with the basics, children who eat a healthy diet and get the recommended amount of sleep each day are in a better position to cope with social responsibilities and pressures. A healthy child will also have the advantage of fewer illnesses, thereby making it easier for him or her to cope with the stresses of our fast-paced life and enabling the child to reach his or her full potential.
One of the most effective ways to teach children is by example, or by modeling the behaviors they will need to succeed. To enable the children in your life to develop their EI, try the following:
- Speak to children without using judgment, punitive overtones, or negative intentions. This will teach them to have a higher level of self-respect.
- Communicate with children using language that gets right to the point and avoids confusion. Eliminate mixed messages and double standards in order to help them be more understanding and accepting of others.
- Honor children and behave towards them in loving, caring, and friendly ways. Doing so will increase their emotional intelligence, allowing them to build the satisfying relationships they need and want.
You can find numerous resources on the Internet that can help promote more effective childhood development while increasing emotional intelligence. Here a few web sites that offer valuable and proven methods of caring for children in a kind and loving way:
Children are spontaneous and reactionary by nature. To expect children to display self-control under all circumstance is unrealistic. Therefore, when interviewing potential preschools and other childhood programs, be sure to ask what their policies are concerning behavioral problems. Schools and programs that are not willing to work with families to resolve difficulties do not have the understanding and compassion children need while developing social skills.
The Greatest Gift
One of the greatest things we can teach children is a global language we can all understand and use: friendliness. Friendliness is appreciated, desired, and valued in all cultures throughout the world. Friendliness inspires compassion and love, as it increases individual and global emotional intelligence.
"We do not need books about psychology in order to learn to respect our children," Miller says. "What we need is a total revision of the methods of child rearing and our traditional view about it."
Alice Miller, author, The Drama of the Gifted Child
"Gifted children manifest a near 'blindness' to social cues, which leads to isolated and sad childhoods and low levels of empathy that predict poor school performance. There is little doubt that people without sufficient EQ will have a hard time surviving in life."
Susan Dunn, EI Coach
About the Author:
Dawn Fry is the founder and CEO of Helping Our Children Productions, a publishing company that provides educational CDs giving practical help to families and childcare professionals. Ms. Fry has more than 60,000 hours of professional experience working with children. For more information, visit www.DawnTalk.com. Copyright 2006 Dawn Fry