Superpower #1: Emotional Intelligence

If I had to give young children one superpower to use for their whole lives, it would be Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize and regulate one’s own feelings and to recognize and understand them in others. The trick is, when it comes to understanding other’s emotions and regulating our own, we are on a lifelong journey. You don’t need to study Psychology to learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but there is much more to it than that. Emotional intelligence is necessary to learn to react to other’s emotions appropriately. It is a major part of our social skills set.

For gifted and talented children especially, social skills and emotional intelligence may be even more difficult to grasp. Take, for example, children with Asperger’s syndrome, who will definitely be highly verbal and so bright, but who, along with a multitude of other symptoms, will often have difficulty interacting with others, and being socially responsive and appropriate in emotion-rich situations.

These situations rich in emotions are everywhere in preschools. When it looks like children have just learned to use their words to express feelings, it’s time to learn to play together, with sharing as an important part of the deal. Then comes Kindergarten, and as I discovered, there is no time to catch a break before the big middle school and teenage years.

It came quite as a surprise for me. I mean, the fact that relationships for a 5-year-old might already take a turn towards drama. It’s funny how, despite working in the field of Early Education for so long, you may still feel so powerless when your child encounters a new developmental challenge that truly makes him hurt. But that’s what happens. Yesterday, my son came back from school crying for over half an hour about (I’m not so sure) friends not being friends, not being best friends, and other friends taking his friend, and keeping friend number one to sit with him. Wooow…you get it- complicated stuff! EI fig

It was heartbreaking to see him so upset. Considering the time it took him to recognize why he was moody, then the number of issues that he reported, before finally reaching the topic of friends, I’d say recognizing and understanding feelings are still a work in progress. And considering how long it took me to calm him down despite a long discussion and snuggling, I thought mama needed to do some more serious homework.

Thankfully, Emotional Intelligence and teaching compassion are skills that many leading educational experts talk about profusely. Some even propose to add it to the Common Core Standards. In the meantime, here is what my homework led me to :


10 tips to improve and practice Emotional Intelligence skills:


  1. Teach children to self-evaluate: having a good look at their own emotions and understanding them will help them later do the same for others.
  2. Help them learn to take responsibility for their actions/words, and how these actions/words may make others feel.
  3. Use non-verbal exercises: ask children to imagine times where they were sad or frustrated or angry, and to freeze that expression on their face, or even through a whole body posture.
  4. Ask children to recognize the emotion on your face or on each other’s faces. Sets of flashcards with pictures of emotional faces can also be used in therapy or as a game to practice recognizing feelings.
  5. Role play: ask children for examples of difficult situations where they didn’t know what to say or do, or felt strong feelings, then come up with better behavioral/verbal responses, and finally rehearse the situation using these new responses.
  6. Encourage empathy: what should you do if…your friend looked sad/angry/hurt/jealous?
  7. Count to 5 (or 10): when angry, they can learn to calm themselves by taking a few seconds to recollect form the assault of emotions in order to respond to it more calmly.
  8. Utilize Self-talk: Children can use self-talk to get through a situation. Teach them how to listen to their inner voice for advice, or how to talk themselves through a problem.
  9. Don’t Forget Dragon-breath: love that name! It means practicing deep breathing a few times.
  10. Rough House: Yeah, seriously! Rough housing is actually a great game to teach children to regulate self-behavior, meaning what is appropriate, when it is appropriate, where are the limits, when to stop, and how to calm down. This may be really helpful later in life. Self-regulation is a big component of anger management, so you can see how useful that may become later in social interactions.

That’s all I found so far. If you have more tips to encourage self-control and the development of Emotional Intelligence, please feel free to comment below; we love feedback and ideas!



Can Emotional Intelligence be taught? Jennifer Kahn, Published in NY Times, September 11, 2013.

New Oxford American Dictionary

Future of education summit


Fernandez G. (2012). Psychological Science Agenda. The Science Student Council.

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