Building Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

‘If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then, no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.’ Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is generally defined as being able to recognise, understand and manage our own emotions while recognising and understanding the emotions of the people around us.

It recognises that our emotions affect our behaviour and may have positive, or not so positive, impacts on our relationships, the choices we make and our success and happiness.

A recent study led by the University of Sydney also found that EI impacts upon academic performance, seeing students with higher emotional intelligence achieving higher grades and test scores.

Researchers say this may be because those students can better regulate negative emotions, such as anxiety, boredom or disappointment, and they form stronger relationships with peers and teachers upon whom they can call for support when times get tough. Some of the qualities associated with EI, like understanding the feelings and perspectives of others, may also suit Humanities subjects and so particularly help students gain better academic results in those areas.

“I place a huge amount of weight on emotional intelligence,” says Diane Furusho, Haileybury’s Assistant Principal, Respectful Relationships & Consent.

“The more emotional intelligence you have, the more self-awareness you have and the greater impact this can have on learning because you understand your strengths and weaknesses.”

At Haileybury, the development and growth of EI begins in the Early Learning Centre (ELC) and continues throughout the school. In the early years, teachers help children talk about their feelings and encourage them to think about why they may feel or react a certain way.

In the Middle School, students take part in a program called Thrive, while Pre-Senior and Senior School students are supported by the Personal Excellence (PEx) Program that focuses on topics such as confidence, resilience, social skills, respectful relationships and consent.

“Some people naturally have higher levels of emotional intelligence, but it can be learned, and schools and parents need to work together to help young people develop greater EI,” says Mrs. Furusho.

So, what can parents do to help grow and support their child’s Emotional Intelligence?

  • “Don’t dismiss a child’s emotions. Help them put words to those feelings and help them unpack emotions in the early years,” says Mrs. Furusho. “Younger children may also need help with self-regulation, so if they become frustrated or upset, ask them if they need some time alone to work through how they are feeling.”
  • Help children recognise that emotions are OK and explore why they may be upset. If they’re sad because a friend doesn’t want to play, help them understand that their friend may be upset about something or just need some time by themselves.
  • Students can struggle with expressing how they feel. Don’t rush those conversations. Allow time for them to reflect on why they feel like they do and how they can improve the situation.
  • Encourage empathy by suggesting your child puts themself in the shoes of the other person to try and understand why someone might behave a certain way.
  • Empower teenagers to feel confident to speak up if something doesn’t feel right, says Mrs. Furusho. “If someone makes a comment that makes them uncomfortable, encourage teenagers to ask that person why they said that” she says.
  • Don’t force your opinions or solutions on children. “Ask questions to help them work things out. Often a child just wants to be heard and you can respond by validating how they feel and listening,” says Mrs Furusho.
  • When your child opens up to you, listen without judgment. As soon as they feel they are being judged, they will shut down.