The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Research on defiant children shows that they tend to lack something called emotional intelligence. A lack of emotional intelligence is basically a lack of emotional maturity. The concept of emotional intelligence involves our ability to understand, use, regulate and manage our emotions as key determinants of our life success and happiness.

Emotional intelligence appears to be a key predictor of one's ability to make suitable peer relationships, get along at home, develop a well-balanced outlook on life and reach their academic potential at school. A typical problem for teens who experiment with drugs is that they have difficulties dealing with their emotions. This can increase their risk to self-medicate with substances such as alcohol, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and other drugs. Parents can help to minimize such use and abuse by coaching and teaching their teens to gain emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence encompasses the following five characteristics and abilities:

  1. Self-awareness – Recognizing emotions as they occur and discriminating between them.
  2. Mood management – Handling feelings so they're relevant to the current situation and reacting to them appropriately.
  3. Self-motivation – “Gathering up” your feelings and directing yourself toward a goal, despite self-doubt, inertia and impulsiveness.
  4. Empathy – Recognizing emotions in others and tuning into their verbal and nonverbal cues.
  5. Managing relationships – Handling interpersonal interaction, conflict resolution and negotiations.

Here are three ways to help your teen learn to be more emotionally intelligent:

  1. Coach your teen to realize when he or she is stressed – The first step to reducing stress is recognizing what stress feels like. Share how your body feels when you are under stress and ask your teen to share how he or she feels when under stress as well. You could also share the quote by Sir William Osler: “Our bodies weep the tears our eyes refuse to shed.” You could ask questions such as: How does your body feel when you’re stressed? Are your muscles or stomach tight or sore? Are your hands clenched? Is your breath shallow? Teach your child how being aware of his or her physical response to stress will help regulate tension when it occurs.
  2. Help your teen identify his or her stress response – Everyone reacts differently to stress. If your teen tends to become angry or agitated under stress, he or she will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet the mind and body down. If your teen tends to become depressed or withdrawn, he or she will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating. If your teen tends to freeze—speeding up in some ways while slowing down in others—he or she will need stress relief activities such as giving a pet affection and attention that provides both comfort and stimulation.
  3. Encourage your teen to discover the stress-busting techniques that work best for him or her – The best way to reduce stress quickly is by engaging one or more of your senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Each person responds differently to sensory input, so your teen will need to find things that are personally soothing and/or energizing. For example, if your teen is a visual person, he or she can relieve stress by surrounding him or herself with uplifting images. If your teen responds more to sound, you may find a wind chime, a favorite piece of music or the sound of a water fountain will help to quickly reduce his or her stress levels.

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over 23 years of experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post-doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS Eyewitness News Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC, and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child (Perseus, 2007), Why Can't You Read My Mind? and Liking the Child You Love, Perseus, 2009). You can check out his website and follow him on Twitter.