Emotional Intelligence  vs IQ

Words Jo Hollingsworth


When my daughter was 5 , I went away with my husband for a short break , I knew this would be difficult for her (and me!) and I promised her that I would call every night before bedtime , but , to my surprise she asked me not to, and only to call her when I was about to board the plane home. I remember being surprised that my five year old could be so in touch with her own feelings and come up with an effective strategy to manage them.

Situations like this play out every day although we may not recognise them. Consider these scenarios- your child is playing with his teddies, one pushes the other and he tells him off and gives the ‘injured’ teddy a cuddle , or your child picks a flower for her friend who is off school ill- these responses might not seem particularly significant but they are indicators of a set of skills which make up “emotional intelligence” or EQ.

‘EQ is not a fixed attribute and can be developed over time and with practice.‘

EQ isn’t measured by IQ tests. Whereas IQ is a score derived from one of several standardized tests designed to assess intelligence, EQ is the ability to identify, understand and manage feelings- our own and other peoples , and psychologists have long argued that high IQ doesn’t necessarily lead to success educationally or in later life- a Forbes article in 2013 cited research from The Carnegie Institute of Technology which found that 85 percent of financial success was linked to personality, ability to communicate, negotiate and lead. And only 15 percent was due to technical knowledge.

The concept of EQ was widely popularised in the 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by psychologist Daniel Goleman who describes EQ as having five basic components- self awareness; self-regulation; motivation; empathy and social skills.

Of course, some children are naturally more in touch with their feelings and those of others, and some may have an inherently lower EQ and need more help to develop this- this may be even more pronounced in some children with learning differences- for example a child with ADHD may not notice social cues and a child with Asperger’s may struggle to read them- conversely , it is not uncommon for children with dyslexia to have high EQ because they tend to see the big picture- but the positive news is that EQ is not a fixed attribute and can be developed over time and with practice.

Many schools now offer emotional learning programmes like PHSE as part of the curriculum -leading schools like Eton College and Cheltenham Ladies College put a great deal of emphasis on EQ because there is such a strong correlation between emotional intelligence and the ability to develop and maintain relationships, build self-confidence and recover from adversity. Others agree that EQ is a pivotal factor in success- Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, says that EQ is so critical to success that it accounts for 58 percent of performance in all types of jobs .

According to psychologists, if we nurture EQ in our children when they are tiny, we are setting them up to communicate effectively, develop strong relationships, negotiate difficult situations, be successful leaders and – according to some researchers-become more financially successful. They point out that they will be more empathetic, relate more easily to others and have a greater level of self-awareness.

So if we agree that EQ is important and that it can be developed, what as parents can we do to help our children connect with their own and others feelings?

In the book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, author John Gottman stresses that teaching EQ begins from the day your child is born. By responding to your baby’s needs when she cries or needs to be picked up you teach her that she can elicit a reaction by expressing her feelings, and although as a parent, it can be difficult to cope with your toddler’s tantrums , these actually provide good opportunities to teach your child crucial EQ skills like how to manage strong emotions and calm himself down.

‘Be a role  model and be honest  with your children about how you are feeling.’ 


Young children learn through play- they learn crucial problem solving skills for example through building models, or messy play,  or they may play act out strong emotions like telling their dolls off for being naughty and then giving them a hug.  

If you engage in rough and tumble with  your toddler, they learn that they can trust you and that they are unconditionally loved -which is important  for self-esteem. Imagination  games help toddlers to play out their strong emotions like sadness, jealousy, anger- which they may not yet have the capacity to process or even put into words, but through play they can learn to deal with and resolve these feelings. 


According to psychologists there are a number of specific ways that we can help our children to develop EQ: 


Watch and Listen  

Look out for examples in play of your child acting out their emotions and discuss it with them . Instead of trying to minimise or  deflect their  sadness or anger, you  can empathise to show them you understand how they are  feeling and you can  set boundaries and encourage him to deal effectively with his emotions, for example, you could say  “I know it’s upsetting that your friend keeps knocking over your brick tower but how do you think he feels when you kick him , how else do you think could you deal with it ?” 


Discuss your own emotions openly with your child 

Be a role  model and be honest  with your children about how you are feeling- We often only think about emotions when they are negative or difficult to deal with  like feeling disappointed or angry – and of course you can model how to handle big emotions and move on from them – but  talk  to them about positive emotions too , you could  say “I’m feeling happy today because I’m going to see Grandma …”   

As parents  our emotions are often intrinsically linked with our children’s moods, but it is important to help them understand that they are not responsible for you being angry or sad- and that we all have to take responsibility for our own emotions, so rather than saying “you make me angry when you do that,” try saying , “I don’t like it when you do that because …” in other words try to focus on the actual behavior itself . 

With older children you can relate her feelings to other people’s experiences, if she is afraid of starting a new school, tell her how nervous you were about starting your new job and what made you feel better. 


Identify  the mood or feeling at home and when you go to different places

The mood of a home is constantly changing , it may flow from calm and relaxing, to  fun and exciting- discuss these differences and help your children to recognise mood and atmosphere and how their and other’s emotions impact it-Understand the difference between rules that are imposed by others and values – teach your child how to establish their own values and teach them how to stay true to their own principles when things get difficult. 


And finally remember…

Don’t become preoccupied with your child’s academic ability. But, instead, teach them to sit with those sitting alone. Teach them not to be kind but the value of kindness. That it is always an individual choice to become what one wants to be. Neither parents nor divinity can dictate anyone to act in a certain way. Make your child aware of little acts of kindness, empathy, compassion, solicitude and see your child transition into a beautiful soul. Teach them to look for light amidst clouds of gloom and see the world will be changed too. The world will indeed be more humane and a better place to be when our inner child remains alive always.