It’s recess at Lake Mary Montessori Academy and amid the swirl of laughter and activity, two five year olds engage in a tug of war over the same swing. Directress Sheila Linville witnesses the event. Her first impulse is to intervene when suddenly she hears one child say to the other,” Let’s sit down and mediate this.” There were no tears, no name-calling, and no fighting. “These little girls used their words to figure out a solution and they moved on, explains Linville.

On the surface this encounter may seem like playground politics, but it’s actually a sign of emotional intelligence, perhaps the best predictor of a child’s future success in life.  Emotional intelligence or E.Q. is redefining what it means to be smart and successful. “The importance of emotional intelligence will pave the way for a lifetime of happiness and success.  Children can have a high I.Q. score, but may be unable to socialize in a group comfortably, play with others, understand others needs or communicate in a way that shares their feelings.”

In practical terms, E.Q. is the ability to read between the lines, to size up situations, to be intuitive. Author Daniel Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence” defined it as the self-control to rein in emotional impulses, the ability to read another’s innermost feelings and to handle relationships smoothly.   Goleman concludes that in every field, emotional intelligence matters twice as much as cognitive abilities like I.Q. or technical expertise. Emotionally intelligent people are good arbitrators, successful dealmakers, leaders, team players and employ better decision-making strategies using both their emotions and logic. They also have healthier relationships because of their ability to read emotions and respond appropriately

In a society obsessed with grades, standardized tests, and assessment charts, emotional intelligence cannot and should not be measure by conventional methods. E.Q. is evident in a child who has self-confidence, a high self esteem, displays kindness and empathy towards others and is other’s centered.  “This is a child willingly to help a friend in a need, a child who is respectful towards others’ needs,” explains Linville, whose Montessori school embraces academics with life lessons.

The challenge for parents and educators is to shift their focus from report cards to the importance of emotional intelligence in their child’s development. “They should be asking the teacher about this area as a primary part of their development, rather than focusing on reading, writing and mathematics,” explains Linville.   “Educators need to create assessment tools that reflect this.”

Although you may think smart kids make straight A’s, research shows that emotionally intelligent children are better learners. So is it I.Q. or E.Q. that counts? The answer is both. “I.Q. contributes only about 20% to factors that determine life success, which leaves 80% to other forces,” says School Psychologist Alicia Braccia, who hosts parenting workshops on emotional intelligence.  With so much at stake in our children’s future, the role of E.Q. has implications for the way we parent and educate.

Taken together E.Q. and I.Q. produce a well-rounded child who is prepared for life professionally and personally. “Children who are emotionally competent are at an advantage in every area of life, whether family and peer relationships, school, sport or community and organizational pursuits,” says Braccia. The benefits are hard to ignore. Research shows that emotionally intelligent children enjoy better physical health, are better liked by their peers, have fewer behavior problems, greater attention spans, and score higher on achievement tests.

Is Your Child Emotionally Literate?

So how can you tell if your child is emotionally literate?  Child Therapist Annette Mont says these children tend to flexible, and responsible without sacrificing their own needs and integrity.  A child’s emotional state at school influences his selective attention, recall, event interpretation, decision-making, motivation, problem solving, and prediction abilities. So, it becomes clear how children in control of their emotions fare better while those who lack emotional intelligence are at a disadvantage in both academic and social situations.

“Children who cannot interpret or express emotions feel frustrated.  They don’t always understand what is going on around them and are frequently viewed as being strange.   Without social competence, children can easily misinterpret a look or statement and respond inappropriately.  They may lack empathy and be relatively unaware of how their behavior affects others,” explains Braccia

Educating the Heart and Mind:

Parents and educators can look to the Montessori approach as the role model for nurturing the emotional mind as well as the intellectual mind. The importance of E.Q. is not new to Montessori educators. Maria Montessori first recognized the need to educate the whole child nearly a century ago. “The emotional development of the child is the first tenant of the Montessori philosophy, the framework for all the types of experiences that the child needs.  As the child grows and develops, it should still be the focus in the upper elementary and middle school classrooms. Character education and universal values such as honesty, kindness, integrity and empathy set the environment that respects this development,” says Linville. Her Montessori school incorporates lessons on self-awareness, managing emotions, and learning how to empathize and deal with relationships within traditional subject areas. “Our Montessori educators help students make connections between academic knowledge and life experiences. We encourage our students to use   their multiple intelligences,” says Linville.

For educators, the challenge becomes how to design a curriculum that takes the whole child, the emotional, social, intellectual, creative, musical and artistic parts into consideration.  Linville and Braccia have the following suggestions:

1.    Rethink traditional approaches to discipline that punish instead of teach proper ways to behave.
2.    Invite a school counselor, school social worker or school psychologist to lead students in emotional literacy activities and incorporate those skills into the classroom.
3.    Create and decorate an emotional mailbox for the classroom, and encourage students to submit questions and problem descriptions for discussion
4.    Identify the dominant learning styles of individual students
5.    Have students participate in team projects where they use a variety of interpersonal skills such as building trust, listening, respecting others’ points of view, articulating ideas, planning, making choices, dividing the labor encouraging others, taking responsibility, solving problems, and managing and resolving conflicts.
6.    Teach and counsel children to control anger.

How can Parents Foster E.Q.?

As parents, we want our children to be successful and smart but the best way to start is not with flash cards but with feelings. A child’s emotional intelligence begins at home and evolves throughout his school years. The focus should be on a child’s lifelong education and the achievement of a balance between academic performance and emotional maturity.

Linville has this advice for parents: listen to the needs of the child, read about emotional intelligence and attend parenting classes to learn more about your child’s development.  “Only then can you stand up and say this is not what my child needs. You become very discerning about the types of experiences you want for your child and have the knowledge to defend your decisions when other parents challenge your commitment to your child’s E.Q.,” says Linville.

At home, parents can help their children develop healthy emotional habits   by teaching self-control, self-awareness and empathy, three key emotional lessons.
Self-awareness is at the core of emotional intelligence. It’s the ability to label feelings and identify what causes them. “Children who are self- aware don’t hide things from themselves.  They can talk about fear, frustration, excitement, and envy. They can understand and speculate about the feelings of others,” explains Braccia. Conversely, children who lack self-awareness can easily feel overwhelmed and isolated because they don’t realize that others experience the same feelings. Experts suggest that role-playing is a good way to get your child to open up about his or her feelings.

With self-awareness comes self-control, the ability to manage one’s feelings. Parents model self-control, which requires that they too have a reasonable degree of emotional literacy. “ When it comes to anger, ‘letting it all out’ is not helpful.  What does work is to teach children to keep a lid on their feelings while they buy some time,” suggests Braccia.  People typically need a cooling off period of 20 minutes to recover from intense physiological arousal. Braccia suggests parents teach their children the following coping mechanisms.
-Change the thoughts that trigger anger by looking at the situation from the other persons’ point of view.
–  Cool off through active exercise or distracting activities.
–  Write down angry thoughts and reexamine them.
–  Identify and express the feelings that cause anger like frustration, fear, or humiliation.
–  Pay attention to how it feels to be angry and learn to identify these sensations as cues to stop and consider what is happening and what to do about it.

The third component of emotional intelligence is empathy, the ability to feel the emotional pain of others.  Parents can teach their child empathy by talking about feelings and asking questions that get the child thinking how others feel. They can set up scenarios that focus on the consequences of their child’s behavior. A favorite TV show or book can become a good conversational tool to approach the subject.

By leaving these emotional lessons to chance, we fail to help children reach their potential. Emotional intelligence tells us that success in life isn’t just about being booksmart or a good test taker.  Unlike I.Q., which is thought to be genetically endowed, or destiny, emotionally intelligence evolves opening up a world of new possibilities. In a culture of overachievers, E.Q. gives us the edge even if we don’t make the grade.

To learn more about emotional intelligence here a few suggested books to read:
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
Learning and the Brain by Eric Jenson
Social Skills Presentation by Rick Lavoy
50 Activities for Teaching Emotional Intelligence by Innerchoice Publishing