It's natural for parents to want their children to be successful. That's why so many of us encourage our kids to study hard and master valuable skills. But research suggests that maybe we should all focus less on IQ and more on EQ.
Studies show that emotional intelligence is not only easier to impact through effort than innate intelligence, but it's also incredibly valuable for career success. One study determined that higher EQ leads to higher pay, and another showed emotional skills are more important for group success than sheer brainpower.
In short, even if you put aside concerns about emotional well-being and focus only on outcomes like salary and job title (which you probably shouldn't), it makes sense for parents to worry more about raising kids with high EQ than it does to stress endlessly about intellectual achievement.
If you're wondering how to do that, a recent TEDx Talk by Lael Stone, an Australian family therapist and founder of an elementary school, is a good place to start. In it, she offers simple but powerful advice parents can use to help their children develop high emotional intelligence.
"Children cannot be what they cannot see."
In the talk, Stone notes that there are generally three ways parents handle their kids' negative emotions. Some, subtly or not so subtly, push their children to repress sadness and anger (for boys it's more often the former, for girls the latter). Others model aggression, imposing authoritarian rules and strict punishments for behavior that strays outside those boundaries. Finally, some parents teach expression, giving their kids space to talk through their negative emotions.
How do these three approaches work out in the long run? Unsurprisingly, what you learn as a kid you generally continues as an adult, Stone explains. So kids who learn to repress negative feelings can grow up to become adults who drown theirs in alcohol, mindless social media, or workaholism. Lashing out at kids leads to adults who lash out.
The secret to raising kids who understand others' feelings and empathize with them, Stone claims, is to give your children the space to understand and express their own emotions. If you provide a willing ear to hear about your children's frustration or fear, they will learn to cope with emotional pain by expressing it to a loved one, therapist, or even just a journal. And maybe even more important, they'll come to understand that the way to react to other people's negative emotions is to understand and work through them.
Which sounds simple. And it is. Stone's big revelation is basically, when your kid is hurting, don't try to fix it or push the pain away. Instead, give her a hug, ask her to tell you about it, and just listen. That's not rocket science, though as any parent can tell you, it's often easier said than done in the moment.
The valuable thing here is a simple reminder that how you handle your kids' least pleasant emotions will teach them how to recognize and handle not just their own feelings but other people's too.
Doing that constructively is the definition of emotional intelligence, and as a whole host of research shows, these skills will won't just make your kids more emotionally balanced and happier--they will also help them get ahead in the world more than a maniacal focus on advanced placement calculus classes and summer enrichment programs will.
Interested in learning more? Check out the complete talk below.