What is Emotional Intelligence and Why Should We Teach it?

What is emotional intelligence and why should we teach it?
7 strategies for boosting young people’s emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence describes our ability to recognise and control our own emotions and understand and respond to the emotions of others.  Young people with a high level of emotional intelligence are in a great position to achieve both academically and socially and are usually highly content to boot!  There are some simple strategies we can build into our interactions with young people – whether they’re our children or our students – which can help them develop their emotional intelligence. 

Encourage a positive mindset

Negative thoughts and feelings can impact heavily on our ability to achieve, whereas a more positive mind-set prepares us for success.  By encouraging children to consider the positives of a situation rather than the negatives, we prepare them to maximise their achievement and enjoyment.  For example, if a young person is worried about an upcoming test, instead of obsessing over the things they are less good at they could focus on the preparation they’ve done and the elements that they feel strongest at.  This will help them to realise that they are capable of doing well and help them achieve their best.

Setting high expectations

Young people will always live down to our low expectations and will usually strive to achieve our high expectations.  Instead of settling for mediocre, set high, but realistic goals and targets and be sure to celebrate achievement.  Encourage young people to set their own goals too that stretch and challenge themselves instead of those which they know they can easily achieve.  The sense of achievement we feel when we reach a challenging target far surpasses the feeling of scoring an open goal – and that feeling of success that you’ve really worked for can be quite addictive, encouraging young people to stretch themselves ever further to see what their limits are.

Develop self-esteem

Emotional well-being and intelligence goes hand in hand with high self-esteem.  One of the key things you can do when supporting young people is to try to banish the feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness that can often plague youngsters. Listen out for statements made by young people that put themselves down or cast doubt on their abilities.  Try to counter this with something more positive to turn the statement around.  Where possible give evidence that the child’s negative view is wrong in order to help them change it and support them in looking for positive alternatives.  To avoid compounding negative viewpoints, try to avoid criticising the child directly, instead to remove the criticism one degree by questioning their choice or their behaviour for example.  Encourage high self-esteem by encouraging children to consider their strengths and best qualities – and to look for these qualities in others and openly share them.  It can be a huge boost to a child’s confidence to hear positive things said about them by other people whether it’s another child, a teacher or a parent.

Make the impossible seem possible

Many children give up easily on tasks if they don’t succeed on the first attempt. When a child says “I can’t” think of a way of proving to them that they can – either by offering some support, or reminding them of a time they were successful in the past and remembering how they achieved this success.  Alternatively, an “I can’t” can become “I am learning”. So instead of “I can’t do the past tense in French” – rephrase to say, “I am learning to do the past tense in French”.  If a child feels that they are in an environment where it is safe to try, but fail, and that trying until you succeed is encouraged then they are less likely to be floored by an “I can’t” attitude.

Encourage independence

Young people feel a huge sense of ownership of a task when they tackle it independently.  They are more likely to be committed to it and to want to go on to attempt similar tasks in future if they can prove they can do it all by themselves.  Support them in choosing tasks that are suitable for them to tackle on their own – think stretching but achievable – and help them identify sources of support they can use that don’t mean asking a parent or teacher.  For a younger child doing a jigsaw this might mean giving some guidance at the start by discussing the picture and reminding them that they can refer to the puzzle lid for help; for an older child doing creating a poster about tigers you might remind them that they can refer to their animal encyclopaedia or do a Google search if they get stuck.  Of course, you should not discourage young people from asking for adult help if they need it, but where possible provide them with the tools they need to solve problems for themselves as this will far better equip them for future learning than telling them the answers. 

Rely on intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards

Children love stickers – but more than stickers they love the feeling of achievement that goes with the sticker and the praise that often accompanies it.  Instead of always relying on extrinsic rewards such as stickers and prizes, encourage children’s natural inclination to thrive on praise and success as these rewards are always available to us, as long as we’re willing to try hard.

Teach young people to calm themselves

Managing to regulate our mood is a major life skill that many adults find themselves still working on.  However, the younger we start trying to understand our own moods and motivations, the more able we are to learn to regulate them.  For young people the most important mood regulation skill is learning to calm themselves when they are angry or stressed.  Different things will work for different people so work with the young person in question to discover what is effective for them.  It might be counting to ten, breathing deeply or visualising a favourite scene.  Encourage them to try to implement this technique whenever they feel stressed or angry and with practice their body will learn to respond.

Emotional intelligence skills enable young people to better embrace and enjoy their education and also help them to develop into people who are more likely to be contented and successful in life.  These 21st century learning skills are a cornerstone of Globastudy’s online enrichment programme which focuses on cognitive, critical and creative skills that bring out young people’s personal best in all situations.


About the Author
Author: Swati Lahiri
Swati Lahiri, M.Ed and PGCE is an innovative educator cum clinical Psychologist teaching English literacy and English for Speakers of Other Languages. She switched her career from banking to teaching about 12 years ago and proudly calls herself a new age educator who focuses on bespoke 21st century skills. She has received her education both from the US and the UK and currently in London teaching in the higher education sector. Swati loves to travel and when she is not teaching, she is busy reading or penning her thoughts on a variety of topics.

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