This article originally appeared in the September-October 2003 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
In a non-traditional preschool in Ortigas, kids are learning about the quiet ramblings of their emotions. They go through breathing exercises. They make happy, sad and angry faces. They talk about things that bother them. And they learn how to comfort themselves when situations upset them. Some parents may frown and say the approach smacks too much of therapy. And yet, this may just be the kind of schooling that can help us raise successful individuals who are in touch with their feelings.
Barometer of success Most of us believe that Intelligence Quotient (IQ) levels and academic achievement are the indicators of individual success. The better kids do in school, the better off they will be in life, we say. In recent years, however, countless studies in the field of psychology say: Not necessarily so!
One such study, conducted by respected researcher and professor George E. Vaillant, followed the lives of 95 students from Harvard University into their middle ages. Vaillant revealed his findings in his book Adaptation to Life. Surprisingly, he found that the men with the highest test scores, whom everybody thought would do well in life, were not particularly successful as compared to their lower-scoring contemporaries in terms of salary, productivity and career status. The high scorers didn’t fare too well in their relationships either —- whether with family or friends.
Charity Orense, a professor of psychology at the Assumption College, says, “We used to think that for a person to be successful, he has to have a high IQ.” However, that’s all changing. Research has found that not all people with high IQs can ‘blend well’ with people, she says. Some people with superior intellect find themselves isolated. They don’t know how to relate with other people, she says, nor do they know how to manage their own feelings.
Daniel Goleman, who wrote the groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence, writes, “Much evidence testifies that people who are emotionally adept -— who know how to manage their own feelings well, and who read and deal effectively with other people’s feelings —- are at an advantage in any domain of life… People with well-developed emotional skills are also more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of mind that foster their own productivity.”
That’s what EQ is all about, Orense says. IQ is about intellectual ability, how a person thinks and processes ideas. EQ is about marshalling emotions, how a person feels, and how he handles those feelings. The successful individual is one who can walk the delicate tightrope between heart and mind.
The marshmallow But how is it to be emotionally intelligent? For that, we go to the tale of the marshmallow.
In the 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel gave a bunch of four-year-olds, who were mostly kids of the faculty and graduate students of Stanford University, a simple test.
He gave each of them a marshmallow then he made one tempting proposal. If the child can wait for him while he runs an errand, the child could have another marshmallow. If not, then the child only gets one marshmallow. Some kids immediately ate the single marshmallow when Walter left. Others waited for up to 20 minutes until Walter returned. Just so they wouldn’t have to think about that juicy piece of marshmallow right in front of them, the kids who waited amused themselves in different ways. They sang to themselves and talked to themselves. Some even managed to make themselves fall asleep.
The marshmallow experiment was a test in self-control. Mischel and his colleagues wanted to find out if the kids can squelch their appetite for something right under their noses to wait for another thing that promises to be even bigger. It was a fight between desire and control, satisfaction and delay.
Fourteen years later, Mischel and his crew tracked down their marshmallow kids, who by then were budding teeners. Those who were able to control their marshmallow craving were found to be more socially competent. Not only were they more confident and self-reliant, they didn’t easily buckle under stress and loved challenges. The marshmallow grabbers, however, were found to be irritable and indecisive, with short fuses and sharp tempers.
Apparently, how those cute little preschoolers managed to control their emotion in that singular test would become a model for how they led their future lives.
Emotionally intelligent From studies such as Vaillant’s and Mischel’s as well as Howard Gardner’s theories on multiple intelligence, Yale psychologist Peter Salovey outlined the hallmarks of the emotionally intelligent individual.
- He knows how he feels. He knows himself. He recognizes a feeling as it happens. Thus, he can make better decisions and deal more effectively with things happening around him.
- He can handle his feelings. He knows enough not to worry too much. He can reign in his anger to avoid a more explosive confrontation. He can look at the brighter side of things when all else seems to be doom and gloom.
- He can motivate himself. He has the patience to finish a task in the best way he knows. He looks at the big picture. And he would be one of those kids who waited for the second marshmallow.
- He can feel for others. He can read the emotional signals of other people. He knows how they feel.
- He can manage relationships. Not only does he know what others are feeling, he acts accordingly as well. He knows how to interact with others, how to bring out their best.
A golden opportunity The family is where our children first learn about emotions and how to deal with them. When a baby cries at night and is comforted by his mommy, he feels secure in the warmth of her embrace. When a toddler throws a tantrum and his daddy deals with him firmly, he realizes his limits. When a preschooler shows a drawing to his daddy and he smiles in appreciation, the child feels good about himself. When a grade schooler fails at a math test and his mommy reassures him and encourages him to do better, he learns how to face challenges squarely.
Orense suggests, “If you want to raise kids with high EQ, there must be a loving atmosphere in the family with more of sympathy and understanding and less of violence and anger. Give your kids room to grow and explore. Allow them to make mistakes because that’s how they learn.”
Goleman adds that parents must act as their kids’ emotional mentor. When a child is upset, take his feeling seriously. Try to understand why he feels that way and help him find positive ways to soothe his feelings.
More importantly, the parent must be emotionally adept, too. A study of families made by Carole Hooven, Lyn Katz and John Gottman of the University of Washington (entitled "The Family as a Meta-Emotion Culture") found that when parents are emotionally adept, they get along better with their kids. And in return, the kids show them more affection. The kids themselves are better able at handling their feelings. They are physically healthier, get along with their friends, and do well in school.
Indeed, Orense says, if a parent doesn’t have a high EQ in the first place, he might have trouble communicating the same to his children. The bottomline, she says, is to start with yourself. Get in touch with your own feelings. Know your limitations, appreciate your strengths. Love yourself – and you’ll find that your children will love you even more.
How NOT to raise emotionally-intelligent kids
Goleman enumerates in his book the most common emotionally-inept parenting styles:
- Parents who totally ignore feelings. “Such parents treat a child’s emotional upset as trivial or a bother, something they should wait to blow over. They fail to use emotional moments as a chance to get closer to the child or to help the child learn lessons in emotional competence.”
ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
- Parents who are too laissez-faire. “These parents notice how a child feels, but hold that however a child handles the emotional storm is fine —- even, say, hitting. Like those who ignore a child’s feelings, these parents rarely step in to try to show their child an alternative emotional response. They try to soothe all upsets, and will, for instance, use bargaining and bribes to get their child to stop being sad or angry.”
- Parents who show no respect for how a child feels, who are contemptuous even. “Such parents are typically disapproving, harsh in both their criticisms and their punishments. They might, for instance, forbid any display of the child’s anger at all, and become punitive at the least sign of irritability. These are the parents who angrily yell at a child who is trying to tell his side of the story, ‘Don’t you talk back to me!’”