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How to help your children become smarter and more successful

February 13, 2016

Before talking about the how-tos, let me ask you these two questions:

  • How do you measure your children’s intelligence?
  • How can you be sure your children will be successful and happy later on in life?

Is it based on IQ, grades, advanced classes, vocabulary, extracurricular activities, memory? None of these things are good indicators of how smart they are. It won’t even predict how likely they are to succeed later on in life. It’s a lot simpler than that; look at how they make and maintain friends.

I know it sounds too simple, but research over the last 20 years shows that this ability can predict how successful and happy your children will be in both their professional and personal lives. This ability has come to be known as emotional intelligence. The good news is that, as an ability, it can be developed in your children with the proper guidance from you.

Fostering emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a measurement of how good your children are at being aware of their own emotions and the emotions of others in order to do life more effectively. By this definition, emotional intelligence requires self-awareness and others-awareness. This capacity is what helps children manage their own emotions and adjust their attitudes and behaviors based on how others are feeling. Studies of many Fortune 500 companies show that emotional intelligence is the one trait most closely related to desirability and promotions. Those studies that have looked at happiness and relationships have also found a strong link between emotional intelligence and happier lives as well as stable, healthy relationships.  If this weren’t enough, emotional intelligence has also been linked to better overall physical health.  

Every parent wants their children to be successful and happy, but too many spend time, effort and money on things that are not really that helpful in the long run.  Here are some simple ideas to help your children increase their “EQ” as you prepare them for their future:

  • Create feeling-driven dialogue 

Use stories, movies, and/or shows to dialogue with your children about how a particular character felt, the reason for the feeling and what the character could have done about it. Talking about a character is less uncomfortable for your children and you can slip in a lesson or advice using the character(s). But please, don’t go on and on because your children will tune you out. The movie “Inside Out” by Pixar offers a great way of talking about feelings, their roles and what children can do about them. You can look up “reflection questions” on the internet and use it to discuss the movie.

  • Increase your feeling vocabulary

Emotions are universal, and we all experience them at some point in our lives. This is what connects us. This is what makes us humans. Don’t be afraid to use feeling words when you are describing something to your children. If you want to know how good you are with these words, do the following exercise: get a blank piece of paper and set a timer for one minute. Write down as many feeling words as you can think of; have your children do the same. Most people come up with an average of 10 feeling words. Someone with a good feeling vocabulary should be able to come up with 20+ different words in one minute. If you weren’t timed, how many of the 3,000 words to describe feelings could you come up with? This doesn’t mean there are 3,000 different feelings, these are simply words to describe them.

Having a rich feeling vocabulary helps in communicating and understanding your children. I often hear parents ask their children why they are upset. “Upset” is used in such a broad sense that it could be used to describe feeling sad, hurt, angry, disappointed, stressed out, uncertain, worried, or discouraged. All of these are very different and each one may require a different action on your and your children’s part.

  • Teach them to name their feelings

Brain research has found out that when children have words to describe their internal state, their emotional center calms down, making them more open to guidance. Author and neuroscientist, Daniel Siegel calls this technique “name it to tame it.” Essentially it means, taking a position of curiosity and giving your children the word(s) to describe what’s going in on inside of them. You can then explore it and come up with ways to manage it. This will strengthen their ability to recognize and regulate their emotions, thus increasing their emotional intelligence.

  • Play “feeling charades”

This is a really fun game I enjoy playing if we are at a restaurant and we’re waiting for our food. It’s about having one person silently act out an emotion and the other(s) try to guess. It helps you become more aware of how your children express a particular emotion and how they perceive yours. It’s also a good way to get in some laughter because of the faces and actions.

  • Create rules about electronics. 

Electronics are starting to get in the way of raising more emotionally intelligent children because as long as they are looking at a screen, they are not looking inwardly and much less, at others around them. Make sure you have moments in the day when you and your children are not allowed to use electronics. It could be dinner time, family time, etc. One last piece of advice- emotional intelligence begins with us. We can’t expect our children to become more aware of their emotions and those of others if we’re not doing the same. 

Children learn better by observation than by listening. Emotional intelligence will help you in your professional and personal life and the good news is that there are many trainings and books available to begin to increase your EQ.