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Are emotional children smarter?

Dr. Paul Schwartz examines emotions and intelligence

Are emotional children smarter?

What does it mean to be smart? For years, parents and educational professionals alike have equated a child’s ability level and potential with their score on IQ tests.  

An IQ, or intelligence quotient, has value and, in many instances, is an excellent predictor of success, especially academic success. But it cannot predict a child’s academic performance with 100% accuracy.  

IQ tests have often been the target of criticism and although they are becoming a more comprehensive tool to assess intelligence, they do not tell us how creative a child is, nor do they measure social and interpersonal skills, or “street smarts.” 

READ MORE: Why do kids act the way they do?

 Over the years a number of psychologists and researchers have become interested in the limitations of traditional IQ tests and have formulated new ways of looking at and measuring a child’s competence and predicting their potential for success. 

In 1995, Dr. Daniel Goleman published his runaway bestseller Emotional Intelligence, which led to the coining of new term: emotional IQ or EQ.  

What exactly is emotional intelligence? According to Goleman, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions in order to assist thought; to understand emotions and emotional knowledge and to effectively manage emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth.” Most definitions have four parts or four “emotional competencies.”  

1. Perceiving emotions 

This refers to the ability to “read” emotions and respond appropriately in oneself or others. A child with this capacity understands how others feel and how to correctly respond, as well as how to understand emotions in stories or in people’s faces. Reading social cues is an important skill for success in the complex world of adolescent and adult relationships.

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2. Emotional understanding 

A child with this skill recognizes the cause and effect relationships between feelings, thoughts and behavior. For example, sadness often accompanies loss. This skill helps a child understand the role emotions play in friendships and group activities. 

3. Using emotions to guide thought? 

This skill allows a child to incorporate feelings into reasoning and how this thinking is related to their mood and behavior. The skill enables a child to see how emotions help to prioritize thinking by directing attention to important information. 

4. Emotional management? 

This is probably the most important competency one can possess in childhood. This skill allows children to control and use emotions and impulses to help them learn and grow, and also recognize the implications of their emotions and behavior on others. Emotional management also enables children to recognize how reasonable their emotions are, in turn allowing them to replace negative emotions with positive ones. 

Emotional intelligence greatly influences a child’s ability to cope and succeed with the demands and pressures encountered at home, school and at play. Emotional intelligence shouldn’t be seen as a separate intelligence; rather it can compliment cognitive intelligence to enhance a child’s ability to function successfully in all areas, academic and social.

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Daniel Goleman strongly believes that emotional intelligence is the best predictor of success in life, and other researchers agree. They feel that emotional intelligence might redefine what it means to be “smart.”  

Dr. John Gottman says in his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, “Science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. They have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and ability to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships.” 

The authors of Emotionally Intelligent Parenting believe that “an adolescent who is able to read a teacher’s feelings is more likely to get a break on a late assignment, extra help, and maybe even a better grade than a student with a strong IQ but a weaker EQ. 

It remains to be seen if EQ is merely the flavor of the month in psychology, or it will eventually take a place among the variables used to assess one’s competence/potential in a number of environments. If your child was assessed with a lower IQ score or doesn’t get straight A’s, don’t despair — you may be raising the next “emotional” Einstein. 

Paul Schwartz, PhD., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College. 

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