Parenting Your Child for the Future – What is Emotional Intelligence and Why it is Important

F101 treeWhile our society esteems academic achievement, most of us would tacitly acknowledge that measuring a person’s intelligence and diligence is hardly a good predictor of “likeability” or “successful leadership”. In the article What Makes a Leader in the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman refered to a quality that both children and adults can intuitively sense in a person, calling it “Emotional Intelligence”. Goleman defined this as the ability to know and control one’s emotions, and to further influence the emotions of others.

Emotional Intelligence is a complex package of skills consisting of self-awareness, social skills, empathy, motivation and self-regulation. These are the qualities that leaders score high in, even though they may not have as high an IQ as their peers. Your child may not be a top scorer in school, but success in life and influence among peers isn’t really determined by raw intelligence. Any dad would be proud to see his daughter coming back from the first week of school wearing a badge with the words “Class Leader”. And it’s perhaps an even greater accomplishment to have the confidence and vote of thirty-nine other boys and girls, than beating them at Maths.

Gaining the trust of others is not something that we learn through formal education, but rather through the application of informally learnt principles of relationship. The best program we can enlist our children to impart the leadership tools for success is actually to be found at home, through how we model and explain our interactions and social decision-making to our children. How does this all really work?

The first area we can focus on as dads is that of developing self-awareness. This is the ability to know and master one’s own emotions, and self-reflect in a way that promotes positive growth. On this foundation, your child will then be able to target the second area of building their social skills. Taken together, these enable a child to confidently nurture positive relationships and outcomes.

Consider this short anecdote of a mother in her forties queuing up for a buffet lunch. She observed that a boy in front of her was barely tall enough to reach the serving counter. Just as he reached his first helping of food, he turned to her and asked, “Ms? May I have some noodles, please?” She was amused because it had been awhile since she was called, “Ms”. At her age, most kids would have called her “aunty”. She gladly ladled some noodles for the boy and helped him with each of the subsequent portions of food.

At the end of the buffet line were fruits that the boy could reach. He gathered some of these onto a plate and offered it to her with a smile, “Thanks, Ms.” As the lady followed him with her eyes, and noted with surprise that the little boy was bringing the food to a man in a wheelchair.

In his book, “How to raise a child with a high EQ”, Lawrence E Shapiro noted that “parents recognise the importance of good manners and are drawn to children who are polite, thoughtful, and exhibit “social graces.” And sometimes, not being too helpful and overbearing as adults can be the best way to nurture these ‘graces’. In our story, the boy was not tall enough to help himself to the food, but in wanting to help get food for his father who was wheechair bound, he made the brave leap into the world of adults and amply demonstrated rather winsome social skills.

Related to self-awareness and social skills is the quality of empathy. This is the ability of a person to listen and understand another person’s point of view or emotion. This quality endears a person to others because it makes people feel understood, and is another precursor to building trust, that vital bond that connects people together, heart to heart. It’s all the more heart-warming to discover a child that’s able to empathize with others, including those older than themselves. Consider for instance how our children could make a difference in their own classroom by demonstrating genuine care and concern for their teacher. Students with such giving attitudes, will naturally create a positive atmosphere; and often these students are doing nothing more than what they had been taught to do at home every day.

Finally, the qualities of self-regulation and motivation are important as well. Self-regulation involves the redirection of one’s disruptive emotions and adapting these to changing circumstances; and, motivation is to pursue goals with energy and persistence. Taken together, these have the effect of turning a person’s negative emotions in a positive direction as illustrated in the following scenario:

A few children were building sand castles on a beach. Each wanted the spades and pails for themselves and started quarrelling. Their father, observing the worsening situation, started making a sand castle himself, and shouted to his children, “Save our castle from the water!” With that rallying cry, the children started digging a trench to trap the water and building a dyke to break the waves. Their angry quarrels soon turned into shouts of encouragement.

The father had succeeded in re-directing his children’s energy away from themselves and towards motivating one another in the direction of a common goal.

Children do not learn EQ by doing homework, but rather through work at home. In his book, “Coaching Kids To Be Leaders”, Pat Williams noted that children with high emotional intelligence had fathers who “practiced personal growth and leadership on a daily basis”. They encouraged their children to read books on dealing with people, shared about their life experiences during dinner time, and role-modelled their behaviours in a social setting constantly.

The growth of emotional intelligence in children is not immediately apparent. It takes years of nurturing and role-modelling before a father can see the fruits of his labour. Indeed, when children overcome challenges in their individual journeys  through life, a father can take pride that his children are doing things right because they have been taught the right things.


1.    Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books

2.    Shapiro, Lawrence E, (1998). How to raise a child with a high EQ – A parents’ guide to emotional intelligence New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.

3.    Williams, P. (2005) Coaching your kids to be leaders New York: Warner Faith

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.

First published on 11-01-2013