IQ is Only Half the Picture: Cultivating your Child's Emotional Intelligence
The following article constitutes a series looking at the developmental stages of infant emotional intelligence. It draws upon a long tradition of research and clinical observation by psychologists and psychiatrists (from psychoanalytic and body-oriented psychotherapy disciplines) including Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen, Chris Campbell, Stanley Keleman, Margaret Mahler, Louise Kaplan, and more.
Since the turn of the 20th century, the importance of "intelligence" (quantified as "IQ" - intelligence quotient) has been over-emphasized in almost every aspect of human endeavor.
Indeed, IQ has been popularized to such an extent that parenting and educational methods are geared to maximizing children's intellectual abilities. An entire industry, supported by reams of literature, has sprung up around sophisticated methods of IQ measurement, interpretation of IQ test results, and hence the mapping of children's career futures. Few people have been spared the indignities of being subjected to an IQ test at some point in their lives.
The beginning of this IQ fetish can be traced back to the Age of Reason in 17th and 18th century Europe, when leading philosophers began to promote "rational" thought as the path to human perfection. This trend has since culminated in today's post-industrial era, when we have come to worship at the altar of "intelligence" - the supposed panacea for the world's ills.
Thanks to the meticulous and exhaustive observations of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980), we know much about the way a child's capacity for rational thought matures and how cognitive development is linked to the functions of reason, logic, memory and language structures. Unfortunately, the importance of the cognitive faculties has been grossly over-emphasized, at the expense of wisdom about the dimension of feelings.
Consider this: In January 2000, Time Magazine voted Albert Einstein the "Person of the Century". While his achievements are certainly formidable, they have not touched anything essential to human happiness. Why do we prize brains above the heart and soul? The fact that a high IQ has often been found to correlate with depression says little for its adaptive advantages. What's more, IQ is a poor predictor of success in relationships, and has nothing at all to do with general life satisfaction or physical and psychological health. One of the saddest and most common misconceptions of our times is that a high IQ leads to emotional balance and psychological maturity.
Our intellect-driven culture stresses the need to teach children how to think, reason and perceive. We are new and unsteady beginners in our efforts to teach children how to feel, how to create, and how to navigate successfully the choppy waters of human relations.
However, you may be glad to know that after a long love affair with the IQ, the honeymoon is just about over. Finally, it has been recognized that intelligence, just like money, cannot ensure happiness. Interest in children's emotional development is gaining in popularity and has gained renewed attention from psychologists.
"Emotional Intelligence", a term coined by Howard Gardner in Frames of Mind (1983), describes a domain of human consciousness that has, until recently, been seriously neglected. The study of emotional intelligence and how to nurture it in our children is undoubtedly the next frontier in social evolution. It is currently enjoying an explosion of academic attention, with Amazon.com already listing over 50 titles that deal with the subject. Even mainstream schools are starting to move away from teaching methods based solely on competition and intellectual development, opting instead for a more cooperative approach to developing children's emotional aptitudes.
Nowadays there are also efforts by psychologists and educators to define the concept of emotional intelligence; to devise instruments for measuring it in individuals (EQ); and to teach its properties to both children and adults alike. It has finally been acknowledged that EQ is more important than IQ when it comes to "people skills" - success in career, in personal and business relationships, and in raising fulfilled children. The abilities to recognize, manage, and appropriately express one's own feelings have little to do with intellectual functioning, but are more vital to our well-being and overall success in life. Emotional intelligence is what determines the way we cope with painful change, disappointment, stress or adversity. An undeveloped EQ can ruin work prospects, undermine relationships and contribute to all sorts of addictions in even the brightest people.
Emotional intelligence includes, among a host of other things, the ability to deeply empathize with others, to lead wisely or follow with grace, to honor our limits as well as celebrate and fulfill our talents and to give and receive love and support. Relationships cannot be truly intimate, nor can they grow, without a deep sharing of our emotional inner worlds. Most of us have learned early in our lives to hide or ignore our feelings, to believe that they aren't important, and that is why relationships can become stunted and dull. More pertinently, our ability to inspire and impart emotional intelligence to our children rests on our own mastery of feelings and our willingness to learn and grow in this area.
In one way or another, we are all struggling to refine, develop, and expand our emotional and relationship skills. Life, with its pain and joys, could be considered a "big school" for the emotions.
Any committed relationship, whether it be business or personal, requires a great deal of emotional intelligence - not just to stay "together", but to remain alive and dynamic. Although most of us can claim to be "fine" or "OK" most of the time, few remember how to feel deeply, how to experience bliss or joy.
Following are some questions you might ponder to gain insight into your own emotional terrain and to understand more clearly what is meant by "emotional intelligence". Please remember that this is not a quiz; EQ is not quantifiable. When it comes to emotional intelligence, we are all on a voyage of discovery! These questions are designed to provoke reflection about areas of your emotionality, that you might like to expand or develop. Some of the questions may seem a little banal at first glance, nevertheless, do take the time to consider how each item applies to you personally.
- If you are sad, grieving or mourning, do you allow yourself to weep? Do you allow others to see your tears?
- Can you express anger freely and non-destructively, then let it go?
- Do you quickly let go of grudges and resentment?
- When you are afraid, do you let trusted others see your fear?
- Do you let yourself know that you are afraid?
- Do you take notice of your emotional and interpersonal needs, and express these needs assertively? Respectfully?
- Are you able to recognize when you need help, then ask for help or support?
- Can you receive help, as well as give it?
- Can you say "no" without feeling guilty?
- Can you strongly protest against mistreatment?
- Can you make decisions without feeling easily taken advantage of?
- Do you easily express, as well as receive, tenderness, love, passion?
- Can you enjoy your own company, yet gladly and comfortably accept intimacy?
- Do you listen clearly to yourself, and to others?
- Can you empathize with the needs and feelings of others, without judgment or criticism?
- Can you accurately perceive what others are feeling, and feel compassion for them?
- Can you motivate others without resorting to fear tactics or manipulation?
- Do you allow yourself to frequently experience and enjoy pleasure?
- Do you allow yourself to experience bliss, ecstasy, excitement, fascination, awe?
- Do you often laugh out loud - a deep belly laugh?
- Do you sometimes feel moved by the courage or the spirit of others?
- Can you contain (rather than repress) your impulses and delay your gratification, without resorting to guilt, shame, or suppression of your emotions?
Flexibility and Balance
- Can you focus your energy on work, yet balance this with fun and rest?
- Can you accept and even enjoy others who have different needs and world views?
- Do you let yourself be spontaneous, play like a child, be silly?
- Are your goals realistic, and does your patience allow you to work towards them steadily?
- Can you forgive yourself your mistakes, and take yourself lightly?
- Can you accept your own shortcomings, without feeling ashamed, and remain excited about learning and growing?
- Do you respect your strengths and vulnerabilities, rather than inflate with pride or fester with shame?
- Would you say you are generally true to yourself without blindly rebelling or conforming to social expectations?
- Can you bear disappointment or frustration, without succumbing to criticism of self or others?
- Are you kind to yourself, or hard and even punishing?
- Can you self-motivate?
- Can you gracefully accept defeat and failure and still feel OK about yourself?
You may even like to ask significant people in your life how they see you in terms of these questions. Your areas for potential growth are signaled by those questions you answered in the negative.
Our unfamiliarity with emotional intelligence means that we will continue to suffer, on a large scale, from social ills arising from emotional disability and injury. In Australia, poor emotional and relationship skills are directly to blame for some of the highest rates of depression, youth suicide, and problem gambling in the world. A deficiency in emotional resources is the basis for our epidemics of eating disorders, substance addictions, and bullying in the playground or work environment. Consumer greed and gullibility to seductive advertising are driven by a massive lack of emotional fulfillment. Our fledgling emotional resources leave us floundering in stagnant or dull relationships, or hurting from broken partnerships and shattered families.
Fortunately, unlike IQ, emotional intelligence can be learned and expanded throughout life. Goleman (1995) speaks of nourishing parent-child interactions as the essential building-blocks of emotional intelligence. We build our emotional structures by imitating our parents, and through our responses to the way in which we were brought up. In his book, Building Healthy Minds (1999), Stanley Greenspan M.D. states that what we learn about relationships and emotions in our early childhood years - when our central nervous system is growing most rapidly - is "engraved" into our neural pathways. As with the learning of languages, new emotional competencies can be acquired later in life, though with considerably more effort. The absorption rate is highest in early childhood, and it is for this reason that, as parents, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility of most significantly affecting our children's EQ.
Most people can bring children up into functional adulthood, but we all fall short in one way or another when it comes to providing the optimal environment for our children's emotional development. It is very difficult to give them what has not been given to us, and hence we are restricted by the insufficiencies of our own childhood, and by the limited credence and support that our community gives to the realm of feelings.
For some time now, psychologists from various schools of thought have been trying to trace the way in which emotions develop in children, much the same as Piaget defined the stages of cognitive growth. A guide map describing precisely how emotional intelligence unfolds can be extremely useful in helping us to promote and facilitate emotional fluency in our children. In the following pages, I intend to summarize the psychological and emotional needs specific to each of the five stages of early childhood psycho-emotional development. By implication, each stage requires a different set of conditions, and a specific approach to caring, if the emotionality of the child is to flourish. I recognize that none of us can consistently provide these conditions at any stage because we are limited as parents, humans, and as a community. A yardstick of what is ideal is not to be used for self-criticism but as a directional marker, since parenting also entails a growth process and developmental journey for the parent.
The development of our core, characteristic emotional make-up is set down in layers over roughly the first seven years of life. Patterns established here aren't necessarily set in stone; however, emotional learning is most powerful at this time due to a child's exquisite openness and vulnerability. When a child's basic emotional needs are met at each stage, the foundation is laid for emotionally intelligent responses that will be automatic and spontaneous later in life. On the other hand, the acquisition of new relationship skills and emotional competencies in adulthood can often be an arduous process, triggered by painful situations.
The five childhood rites of passage that I wish to describe are rooted in biological changes, and are therefore universal and not generally subject to cultural nuances. Each stage finds the child trying to master (with our help) a specific developmental task and emotional function which will prepare the ground for self-image and later relationships. It is during the first rite of passage that the child establishes, at his or her deepest, core level, a sense of self-worth and value for life itself.