Considering Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

This is the 1st in a 6-part series of articles based on the public lecture conducted at the National Library on 16 April 2012 by Professor Steven Pfeiffer entitled “Raising a Successful Child”; the content herein is reproduced with permission from Professor Pfeiffer and the National Library Board.

Emotional intelligence is a crucial set of human capacities that exist within each child that can be, and hopefully is, nurtured by family or in a school environment; it is essentially the child’s ability to manage their own affect of life, their own emotions.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Image courtesy of motherinc.org

Children who are strong in emotional intelligence have an ability to read another person’s feelings; when a youngster is high in emotional intelligence, they can foster positive relationships with other children, and their social skills may carry into the rest of their lives, as they grow older into adolescence (when they start thinking about dating), and as they move towards employment in the real world.

Those who don’t have well-developed emotional intelligence – even though they may have high IQ – don’t read social cues from other individuals well. This may become a real problem for the child, not only in the child’s academic life, but when the child grows up and steps into the real world. What Dr Steven Pfeiffer found in his work as director of Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP) and dealing with very intellectually bright children – children who tested very well or are clearly very bright – is that some of the youngsters didn’t have really well developed emotional intelligence or social skills. Three common problems that he saw on the campus of Duke University were an inability to read social cues, social skill deficits, and performance deficits in demonstrating social skills.

Inability to “Read” Social Situations

With the very bright youngsters Prof Pfeiffer encountered who were unable to read the nuances or subtleties of social interactions, more blatant social issues may develop in the child’s social standing. In its most innocent form, these youngsters get ostracized – they don’t make a lot of friends. In its worst form, they get teased, taunted, picked on, and bullied. It becomes a real problem as the child blooms into adolescence.

Skill Deficits

The second problem manifests as actual skill deficits in emotional intelligence – they simply struggle in learning appropriate social skills. Now, the child may be wonderful in terms of reading, or may be fantastic in figuring out mathematical problems, but they just seem to have some problems learning appropriate social skills; parents need to understand that beyond working on school assignments and homework, they also need to take some time to enhance their child’s social skills.

Performance Deficits

The third common problem lies in performance deficits, where the child knows what to do socially but doesn’t demonstrate it. There are a group of children who know what to do, but for any number of different reasons, don’t demonstrate that social skill at the right time.

Blogfathers! Note: Teaching Empathy

Emotional intelligence is inextricably linked to how developed a child’s sense of compassion is. Empathy, or the ability to sense another’s emotions, is both a physiological and mental activity, and can be likened to a mathematical algorithm that determines the precise pattern of two people’s physiology at the peak of their rapport.

Compassion is not an easy subject to teach, but as parents, we are perhaps in the best position to show our own children what it means to understand and care for the emotions of others. Dr JiaJia and Big Brother recently released a very special episode that really exemplifies the concept of teaching compassion:

Writer Kim Manley Ort compiles a list of 25 lessons in compassion that you can easily share with your child, drawing influences from renowned leaders of compassion such as the Dalai Lama, and includes a range of social activities that may even teach the parent a thing or two about compassion and empathy.

Steven Pfeiffer, PhD, ABPP, is a Professor and Director of Clinical Training at the Florida State University, and is also currently visiting scholar at the National Institute of Education (NIE) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Prof. Pfeiffer is also author of Handbook of Giftedness in Children, Springer (New York), 2008, and his upcoming book, Serving the Gifted… (Routledge, New York, 2012), will be available this coming August.

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