What Role Does Emotional Intelligence Play in Children’s Social and Emotional Well-Being?

If you spend even a fraction of your day around toddlers, you understand — the wrong pair of socks or an oddly shaped chicken nugget is all it takes to inspire a tantrum. It might feel like second nature to you now, but no one is born knowing how to regulate their emotions or perceive other people’s feelings.

boy and girl standing in middle of forest trail

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Thankfully, as children grow, so does their emotional intelligence.

How does this ability influence their well-being? 

Adaptability and resilience

Dropping an ice cream cone, riding the bus for the first time, moving to a new city — life doesn’t always go as planned, but children with high emotional intelligence are better equipped to handle challenges and new situations. They can express their anxiety or sadness to people around them for comfort. They can also self-soothe during periods of stress, using techniques like deep breathing or meditation to calm themselves down. 

Stronger relationships

Perhaps unsurprisingly, emotional intelligence helps children form and maintain strong friendships. Rather than yelling or hitting people out of frustration, emotionally stable kids can express their anger calmly and explain what will help them feel better. 

Kids with higher emotional intelligence are also comfortable expressing positive feelings around their friends. They can let other children know they enjoy their company, making it more likely they’ll want to spend time with them.

Improved performance at school

A high IQ isn’t the only thing that helps kids do well in the classroom. A robust EQ — a measure of emotional intelligence — also sets a child up for academic success. The American Psychological Association has even found that a child’s self-rated emotional intelligence is a better predictor of grades than test scores. 

Emotional intelligence allows a child to recognize when they’re frustrated with an assignment and need to calmly ask for help. It lets them manage anxiety, boredom or stress in the classroom so they can focus on the task at hand. 

Better mental health

High emotional intelligence has a protective effect against mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Children with a high EQ tend to have a strong sense of belonging with other people, and research has found their peers tend to be more accepting of them. This support network boosts their mood and reduces the tendency to feel anxious or depressed. 

Leadership skills

The best leaders have a solid understanding of their own and others’ emotions, using their high EQ to solve complex challenges and manage other people’s feelings. Developing a child’s emotional intelligence teaches them how to empathize and work well with others. It lays the groundwork for them to hold future leadership positions. 

Improved active listening

As anyone who spends time around children knows, hearing and listening are two very different things. Kids must start learning active listening at a young age. People with a high EQ tend to be good listeners because they know people want to be seen and understood. 

Conflict resolution

Emotional intelligence really comes in handy during periods of conflict. Rather than escalating to an outburst, emotionally stable kids can talk through their problems and work to find solutions. This ability is important for managing relationships with peers, teachers and family members. Later in life, strong conflict resolution skills become crucial for getting along with co-workers. 

Setting boundaries

Emotionally intelligent kids understand that anger doesn’t require getting loud or throwing things. However, they also know it can be a useful emotion to harness when responding to upsetting social situations. 

Getting mad is often a signal that someone has crossed a personal boundary, helping kids recognize why someone is bothering them. This skill becomes useful for standing up for themselves and learning to say “no” in uncomfortable or dangerous situations. 

Skills that increase emotional intelligence

To improve a child’s emotional intelligence, help them master these abilities:

  • Recognizing their and other people’s emotions
  • Understanding what causes their emotions and the consequences of feeling that way
  • Labeling emotions correctly
  • Expressing feelings in appropriate ways
  • Self-regulating their mood

These five skills form the foundation of emotional intelligence, setting a child up for success from an early age. 

Striking a balance

Emotional intelligence plays a prominent role in a child’s social and emotional well-being. It gives them the necessary tools to ask for what they need, explain how they’re feeling and regulate themselves in different situations. Children use emotional intelligence at school, at home and in public, making it one of the most important things they can learn to help them lead a balanced life.

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