Set Your Kids Up for Success – Help Them Cultivate Emotional Intelligence

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

Research has shown that emotional intelligence (managing yourself) is twice as important as  cognitive ability (IQ) or technical skills to success in life and work. You can be the smartest kid in college, but if you can’t get out of bed and make it to class to take the test, it doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, most traditional educational systems in the U.S. don’t teach kids how to manage their emotions, have empathy for others, or deal with conflict effectively. So kids must rely on their parents to learn these critical skills.

According to emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman, the two most important indicators of how successful kids will be in college are independence and impulse control. Can they stand on their own away from home without mom and dad there to assist? Can they resist the impulse to party and study for the exam instead?

Here are some tips to help your kids develop independence early on:

  • Stop doing things for them as soon as they are capable of doing it for themselves. Make them responsible for chores, making their bed each morning (Navy Seal Admiral speech on the reasons for making your bed), getting themselves up and ready for school, packing their own lunch, etc. Give them increased responsibility with each passing year.
  • Give them opportunities to do age appropriate tasks/projects on their own without help or guidance from you.
  • Let them fail and figure out what to do. Ask them what they learned and what they would do differently next time.
  • When they come to you with a problem, instead of solving it for them or telling them what to do, ask “What are some possible solutions? What could be the result of each option? Which solution do you think is best based on the possible outcomes?”

Here are some tips to help your kids manage impulses early on:

  • When they get angry, ask them what they are feeling and why. Let them know that it’s okay to be angry, but not to act out in anger. Ask them to take some deep breaths, get a drink of water, or take a walk in order to calm down. Once they calm down, ask them what they would like to do about what was making them angry, and talk through some possible options and consequences.
  • When they see a toy and want it immediately, instead of just buying it for them, tell them to wait until their birthday or a holiday, or after they complete a chore or get a good grade.
  • Teach them how to set goals and break them down into milestones. Celebrate their success in reaching each milestone along the way toward achieving the overall goal.
  • Teach them to save money for a big ticket item they’d like to have, and have them buy it themselves, or tell them you will pay for half once they save half of the money to buy the item.

These tips may seem obvious, but it’s hard for many parents to let go. Parents often think they are doing their kids a favor by doing things for them or protecting them in some cases. When in reality, they aren’t giving their kids the opportunity to develop independence, impulse control, and ultimately self-esteem. Give your kids the gift of self-confidence by allowing them (or making them) do things for themselves. There’s nothing like the feeling of knowing that you did something all on your own. This is what will prepare them for success in college and life beyond.

“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

 “In a high-IQ job pool, soft skills like discipline, drive and empathy mark those who emerge as outstanding.” – Daniel Goleman


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