The Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Children

For children to become individuals with well-rounded personalities, they require emotional intelligence. Though traditionally the focus has been on IQ, today EQ is truly the essential quotient.

By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj  • 12 min read

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Children

An article in the Daily Mail (8 July 2016) featured this headline – ‘Scientists are on the verge of creating an EMOTIONAL computer: AI (Artificial Intelligence) could think like a person and bond with humans within years’. Well, if those intelligent machines require the emotional quotient, how much more would our children require it?

Hema, a 16-year-old, has been a class topper right from grade 1 in all subjects. ‘Genius’, ‘Brilliant’, ‘Mastermind’, ‘Brainy’ – she is so used to being addressed thus by family and peers. Today, Hema is one of the contenders for the post of President in the Students Council Elections in her school. She is quite confident of winning the elections. However, the results have come as a big surprise. Hema has lost. Her rival, Zarina, has won by a huge margin. Hema is stunned.

Twenty years later…

The Medical Council Elections have just been conducted. Dr Hema, the Chief Medical Officer at a multi-speciality hospital, is one of the contestants for the post of Secretary. She stands with a proud tilt of her chin. The name tag on her medico’s coat proclaims flattering qualifications. The results are announced. Hema is, once again, stunned. She has lost – to the same rival Zarina, Head of Physiotherapy Department in a leading hospital.

So, what went wrong for Hema? Let’s analyse the personalities of Hema and Zarina to understand better.

Hema: High intelligence, singular focus on academics and career, high achiever, loner, poor people skills, insensitive to others’ feelings, generally grumpy, snapping at others often, frequent outbursts of emotion, not liked by peers

Zarina: Average intelligence, above-average achiever in academics, active participation in extra-curricular activities, friendly with all, pleasant countenance and manners, kind, controlled emotions, popular among peers

Hema is a typical example that intelligence alone isn’t enough to succeed in life. Though it may appear to be enough for climbing up the professional ladder, as far as wholesome success is concerned, something more is required. We now dig deep to understand what that ‘something more’ is.

Travis Bradberry, the co-author of the bestselling ‘Emotional Intelligence 2.0’, in an article titled, ‘Emotional Intelligence – EQ’ written for Forbes stated, “When emotional intelligence first appeared to the masses in 1995, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time. This anomaly threw a massive wrench into what many people had always assumed was the sole source of success—IQ. Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack.”

Well, that says it all! EQ is ‘the determinant’ for success in life – to excel in all spheres. As parents, shouldn’t we ensure our children strive towards this excellence, by nurturing their emotional intelligence? Before dwelling further on it, let us understand the two quotients better.

Defining them

There are various definitions for intelligence – no one standard definition has been arrived at yet. We look at a couple of them that come closest in terms of conveying the most appropriate meaning.


“The ability to learn facts and skills and apply them, especially when this ability is highly developed.” (Encarta World English Dictionary, 2006)

“. . . that facet of mind underlying our capacity to think, to solve novel problems, to reason and to have knowledge of the world.” (M Anderson, Professor of Psychology, Australia)

Intelligence Quotient (IQ): It is the measure of a person’s intelligence arrived at, based on the score obtained from a standardised intelligence test.

Emotional Intelligence: “A subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions." (American Psychologists Peter Salovey and John D Mayer, 1990)

Emotional Quotient (EQ): It is the measure of a person’s emotional intelligence determined based on scores obtained from standardised tests.

The significance

While IQ is generally thought to involve only the self, EQ involves both the self and others. This implies that EQ has a direct bearing on our relationship with others, when compared to IQ.

Highlighting the difference

As far as IQ is concerned, the opinion as to whether it is constant or changing is divided. While conventional wisdom states it is innate and constant, modern psychology states that it can change, to a certain extent, depending on exposure to favourable factors, such as mental stimulation and nutrition. However, when it comes to EQ almost everyone agrees that it can be developed. This is where the role of parents becomes important. The right parenting approach can ensure children grow up to be emotionally intelligent individuals.

The bottom-line

While nature has a greater influence on IQ, nurture has a greater influence on EQ.

The theory of Multiple Intelligence (MI) by Howard Gardner

This needs special mention here. It includes linguistic, mathematical, kinaesthetic, visual, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist intelligence. Of these, interpersonal and intrapersonal encompass social and emotional intelligence. So, essentially, EI is nothing but a crucial component in a comprehensive view of intelligence. If parents and teachers realise that, our children can become wholesome individuals.

Deciphering the two quotients

What matters in IQ: Cognitive abilities such as Perception, Learning, Memory, Reasoning and Problem-solving

What matters in EQ: Expressing Emotions Appropriately, Identifying Emotions Precisely, Regulating Emotions Intelligently, Dealing with Emotions Skilfully, Appraising Emotions Accurately, Managing Emotions Effectively

EQ in a nutshell

Let us understand EQ better by looking at Daniel Goleman’s framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence. As we discuss each element, let us also see how parents can help develop them in their children.

1. Self-Awareness: It involves understanding our own moods and emotions and never allowing them to master us. It also means an awareness of our strengths and weaknesses which will help us strive to be better individuals.

Influence on relationships: If we are confused about our own emotions, how can we understand others’ emotions? We would end up chanting, ‘To be or not to be,’ like Shakespeare’s Hamlet and wallow in self-pity sliding to the depths of depression. Such negative feelings would seep into our relationships with others.

Parenting tip: Teach your child to identify his emotions, label them and express them clearly. For that, you will first need to acknowledge his feelings. Also, encourage your child to talk about his feelings to you. This will help him understand them better and, in the process, help him unravel his own personality.

2. Self-Regulation: This means being in control of our emotions/impulses and directing them on the right track. It helps us in our decision-making.

Influence on relationships: Submitting to our impulses will only ruin relationships as we would be prone to displaying negative emotions such as anger, envy and hatred.

Parenting tip: Encourage your child to express her emotions in the right manner. Never suppress her. Teach her to never succumb to impulses, but to approach emotionally-charged issues in a constructive manner. This will give her emotional resilience. Discourage excessive display of negative emotions.

3. Motivation: This involves self-motivation and sustained focus on long-term success. These are the hallmarks of High EQ. Such motivation serves as fuel for the energy required to keep driving towards goals.

Influence on relationships: Those who seek immediate results will end up being frustrated, and will tend to take it out on others. They will also constantly crave for praise and appreciation. Lack of it will cause a dip in their motivation levels.

Parenting tip: Teach your child to pat his own back on accomplishments rather than seek appreciation from others. This will make him persevere and strive towards long-term goals, rather than seek immediate results.

4. Empathy: This is the ability to identify ourselves with others and relate to their needs, wishes and opinions. This will give us an insight into the emotional make-up of others.

Influence on relationships: Being empathetic will go a long way in establishing and sustaining relationships.

Parenting tip: Make your child understand the importance of empathising with others. This will help her avoid stereotyping people or being prejudiced towards someone. It will also help her perceive different points of view.

5. Social skills: These skills make us enjoy a good rapport with friends, family and peers, and help manage relationships well.

Influence on relationships: Good social skills help build relationships and ensure that we are team players.

Parenting tip: Qualities such as courtesy, compassion, tolerance and modesty are essential to bond well with others. Inculcate them in your child, so that they will help her endear herself to those around her.

Looking for fun ways to keep your preschooler engaged at home during the pandemic? Check out Little Learners at Home, a home learning programme specifically designed for 3 to 5 year olds by our team of experts.

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