What is emotional intelligence and why should we teach it?

Traditionally, the role of education has been to improve young people’s academic ability – if they reached the end of their school days literate and numerate then we could consider their schooling a success.  More recently, we’ve come to understand that it’s not only IQ but also EQ – or emotional intelligence – that plays a key role in our ability to succeed in life.

Harvard theorist Howard Gardner describes emotional intelligence as “the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them.”  Emotional intelligence can be broken down into five major components.  When we look at each in turn it becomes easy to understand why EQ plays such a key role success.


Being self-aware means recognising our own strengths and abilities as well as understanding our emotions and how they impact on other people.  Developing a high level of self-awareness results in increased self-esteem and self-confidence as well as an ability to evaluate and moderate our emotions in an appropriate way for the situation in hand.

Example: A self-aware 8-year-old may understand that drawing is not their greatest strength but will not dwell on this, instead jumping at the opportunity to recite a story they’ve written for the class, knowing that their creative writing skills are very strong. 


Self-regulation describes the ability to manage our emotions and is particularly helpful when we’re attempting to manage negative emotions such as anger, anxiety or low mood.  By gaining insight into our own emotions, fully understanding them and developing techniques to regulate them we can vastly decrease our chances of becoming prey to mood or anxiety disorders and we can ensure that we respond appropriately in social situations. 

Example: A 16-year-old who has learnt to regulate his emotions will recognise his anxiety as exam season approaches and will alleviate his negative emotions using techniques such as:

  • Focusing on the positives of the situation – exams will be over in a few weeks and he has a holiday planned
  • Considering how his previous actions will impact on his chances of success – he has worked hard at school this year and followed a revision timetable
  • Physically helping his body to calm by taking a long walk or listening to calming music 

This self-regulation drastically reduces the likelihood of unhealthy mechanisms such as drug or alcohol abuse or self-harm.


Motivation is a key driver for success – and we can all learn to be more motivated.  By learning to recognise negative thoughts we can overcome them by couching them in more positive terms and consider ways to overcome obstacles and setbacks.  We can also develop a drive to achieve and develop an optimistic attitude by learning to think my positively.

Example: A 10-year-old who is struggling to learn serve a tennis ball will recognise the negative thoughts related to the current activity and remind themselves that this was how they felt when they first learned to do breast-stroke and that by practising their swimming they got the hang of it.  They’ll remember the high they felt when they first swam a length doing breaststroke and use that memory to motivate them to continue trying to serve the tennis ball.


Learning to understand how others feel is a very important life-skill.  It makes us more able to respond appropriately to situations and enables us to control the signals we are sending to others through our actions.  A highly empathetic person is both highly employable in later life and also generally very well liked as they are easy company who are unlikely to be the source of emotional tension.

Example: A 12-year-old who is highly empathetic will quickly understand that their teacher is deeply disappointed rather than simply angry about the class’s behaviour. She will work with her peers to turn the situation around, working hard on that lesson’s project to try and make the teacher proud.

Social Skills

Our ability to communicate effectively with others is a skill that can really set us apart. For example, we’ve all come across doctors with poor bedside manner for example – someone who clearly has a very high IQ and has studied to a very high level but whose emotional intelligence is poor, leaving them unable to empathise with or effectively communicate with their patient.  They may leave us feeling scared, overwhelmed or uncomfortable.  Compare this to a more positive experience where a doctor works hard to phrase things win a way we understand and involve us in the decision making process. This demonstrates excellent social skills and leaves us feeling far more positive.

The development of strong social skills is also the keystone to our ability to work effectively in a team and to collaborate and cooperate with others. 

Example: An 11-year-old with good social skills will not only be able to do well in an individual maths project, they will also be able to work as a team with classmates to carry out a larger project – and will also be able to effectively communicate the merits of the project to the teacher and the class afterwards at well.

Emotional intelligence is vital to our success

 When we consider the assets that make up emotional intelligence, it’s easy to see that these 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. 

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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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