Emotional intelligence is one of the top predictors of quality of life, relationships, and health.
When it comes to predicting life success, research shows that a person’s emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) is far more significant than their intelligence quotient (IQ).
Children with high EQs perform better in school, stay in school, and are more likely to avoid risky behaviors. They make better leaders and go on to more successful careers.
EQ has even been linked to bullying, with social emotional initiatives seen as a way to reduce or prevent it.
If we want to support our students in leading happy, successful lives, we can’t ignore emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence Around the World
Six Seconds, The Emotional Intelligence Network, measures global EQ annually in a report called The State of the Heart. Using online tests, the organization tracks EQ in 100,000 people located in 126 countries.
Since 2011, EQ has declined around the world. People show less self-direction and have become less self-aware and less able to self-manage. They’re less empathetic and more isolated.
The skill with the greatest decline since 2011 is Navigate Emotions. This means that on average, people are more volatile and emotionally reactive. We see this reflected in headlines weekly or even daily.
Some experts blame increased levels of stress and anxiety. Others point to increased reliance on technology and social media for communication.
Whatever the culprit, teachers are in a unique position to influence young lives and foster positive change.
How to Support Students in Developing Emotional Intelligence
As a teacher, of course, you already have a lot on your plate. But teaching emotional intelligence doesn’t have to take away from other classroom activities.
You can model emotional intelligence, teach it in the context of everyday interactions, and weave it into core content lessons.
Plus, developing EQ in your classroom will ultimately improve academics and save you teaching time.
Here are a few simple strategies you can use to make a powerful difference.
Talk About Emotions
To develop EQ, children need the words to label and discuss their emotions. They also need to understand that it’s okay to have feelings and to talk about them—even the ones we might consider “negative.”
Emotions are our inner guidance system. They serve as a moral compass that tells us when we’re getting off track. Instead of trying to ignore, repress, or control them, we should become aware of them, listen to their messages, and learn to respond to them more appropriately.
Talk about your own emotions in the classroom when appropriate. It’s okay to say, “I felt frustrated when the class was noisy this morning. But I was able to take a few deep breaths, and we worked together to get back on track.”
When children demonstrate big emotions, label them and respond empathetically:
- “You feel mad that your tower fell down.”
- “You’re sad that mommy left. You’re right, that is hard.”
- “You wanted to keep playing. It’s frustrating when you have to stop playing, but it’s time for lunch now.”
Discuss the emotions of characters in stories and encourage students to journal (or draw pictures) about their own emotions. Give children the words they need to voice what they’re feeling.
Overall, create a classroom where it’s okay to have feelings and to share them with others.
Teach “The Pause”
When strong emotions are triggered, we tend to instinctively react. Often, our first reaction isn’t helpful or wise. If we can create a pause between the emotion and the response, we can make better choices.
The same is true for children. As children begin to recognize their emotions, encourage them to pause and take deep breaths to calm down.
Model this practice yourself when you’re feeling upset. After recognizing that you’re triggered, pause. Don’t say or do anything yet. Take several deep breaths, telling yourself, “I’m safe. I can handle this.” Once you’ve regained your composure, you’ll be able to choose how you respond.
Read more about how to teach deep breathing and other calming techniques in this article on In the Moment Ways to Help Students Cope with Worry and Anxiety.
Learn Through Storytelling and Play
Reading stories and engaging in dramatic play help children understand emotions and develop empathy. Encourage roleplay and, when reading stories, discuss the actions and feelings of the characters.
Ask questions like, “How do you think she felt when _____________?” or, “Why do you think he did that? What was he feeling?”
You can also draw a personal connection to your students. “Can you think of a time you felt nervous like that?” or, “How would you feel if you were in this situation? What would you do?” If your students are older, make this a writing activity.
These EQ-boosting activities also increase literacy, critical thinking, and writing abilities.
Coach Social Skills
The best time to coach social skills is in context. When you notice children struggling to handle social situations, provide clear directions on what to do.
If you see children fighting over a toy, for example say, “When you want a toy, ask, ‘May I have a turn?’” If a child pushes another child out of the way, say, “You may not push. When you want your friend to move, say, ‘Excuse me.’”
Another opportune time to coach social skills is when children tattle. Instead of dismissing the tattling or handling the situation for the child, you can teach them to resolve the conflict themselves.
Let’s say a child comes to you and says, “Jessica wrote on my paper!”
Coach the child, “Tell Jessica, ‘I don’t like it when you write on my paper. Please write on your own.’” Some children may need you to accompany them at first, but the idea is that they learn to address minor conflicts with other children instead of with the teacher.
This teaches assertiveness. As children in your classroom learn to communicate assertively with one another, they’ll also become more in touch with the feelings of others. They will receive immediate feedback on how their actions affect the people around them.
Teach Social Responsibility
Encourage students to be of service to others by creating classroom jobs. Being of service teaches responsibility, enhances self-esteem, and lays the foundation for becoming a good citizen.
As you get to know your students, give them jobs that cater to their strengths. This sends the message, “You have unique gifts to share with the world.”
For older children, identify problems in the school, community, or wider world and try to address them.
This might include beautifying the school, helping families impacted by a natural disaster, collecting canned goods or backpacks filled with school supplies, making Valentine’s Day cards for senior citizens, cleaning up a local park or beach, etc.
Teachers want their students to succeed and enjoy happy, productive lives. Supporting them in this endeavor is about far more than academics—we need to teach emotional intelligence too.
Some kids may receive help in this area at home, but others won’t. Some kids have great role models in their families, but others do not.
Model emotional intelligence in your interactions with students, embrace emotions, encourage creativity and play, and incorporate some of the activities above into your lessons and routines.
These may seem like simple steps, but you’ll make a big difference for your students, community, and society as a whole.