You may have heard of IQ (intelligence quotient), but children with a high EQ (emotional quotient) have been found to be physically healthier, do better in school and get along better with friends. EQ is the ability to identify, understand, and regulate one’s own emotions and the emotion of others.

Which is better?

It is a common misconception that either IQ or EQ are more significant than the other in predicting success in life. IQ and EQ are only different in terms of what they measure.

IQ measures your cognitive intelligence – problem-solving skills, pattern recognition, reasoning, logic, mathematics – and how good you are at processing information. EQ measures your emotional intelligence and how good you are at processing emotional information to guide your decisions and actions.

As an analogy, your IQ can predict your career path or field, while your EQ can determine how well you perform at the position and how well you cooperate with your colleagues. Psychologist Daniel Goleman found that EQ consisted of five components:

• Self-awareness: the ability to recognise our own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, values and goals.

• Self-regulation: the ability to control our own emotions in reacting to circumstances.

• Internal motivation: the drive to achieve or accomplish our own goals in life.

• Empathy: the ability to understand and consider others’ emotions.

• Social skills: the ability to build and manage relationships.

He estimated that IQ makes up at best only 20% of the factors that determine life success. The rest of the factors, such as EQ, wealth, temperament, family education levels and pure luck, make up the balance.

Another psychologist, John Gottman, observed how parents responded to their children’s emotions in an effort to understand how EQ develops and found that parents generally responded to their children’s emotions in one of four possible ways.

• Dismissing parents saw children’s emotions as unimportant and attempted to eliminate them quickly, often through the use of distraction.

• Disapproving parents saw negative emotions as something to be squashed, usually through punishment.

• Laissez-faire parents accepted all emotions from children, but failed to help the child solve problems or put limits on inappropriate behaviours.

• Emotion-coaching parents valued both positive and negative emotions, were not impatient with a child’s expression of them, and used emotional experience as an opportunity for bonding by offering guidance through labelling emotions appropriately and solving the issues at hand together.

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Emotion-coaching parents value both positive and negative emotions, and are not impatient with their child’s expression of either.

Nurturing a child’s EQ

Based on his observations of parents interacting with their children, Gottman recommended the following five steps to nurture and improve a child’s EQ.

Step 1: Be aware of your child’s emotions

Parents who are emotion coaches are aware of their own feelings and are also sensitive to the emotions that are present in their children. It is important to recognise that emotions are neither right nor wrong, but that they are valid. Therefore, these parents do not wait for their children to escalate their behaviour or act out their emotional expression to acknowledge their feelings.

Step 2: See emotions as an opportunity for connection and teaching

Children’s emotions are not an inconvenience or a challenge. They are an opportunity to connect with your children and coach them through a challenging feeling. Be aware that young children may act out in frustration when they feel their emotional expressions are restricted, which may lead them to escalate the intensity of their emotions even more.

Step 3: Listen and validate the feelings

Give your child your full attention while you listen to their emotional expression. Reflect back what you hear, thus telling your children you understand what they’re seeing and experiencing. Providing a platform for your child to be heard allows the intensity of emotions to reduce as they are being expressed. This leads to calmer emotions and improved listening for both parent and child.

Step 4: Label their emotions

After you have fully listened, help your children develop an awareness of their emotions and a vocabulary for their emotional expression. Now, your child may express mixed emotions, i.e. experiencing a love-hate relationship with their siblings. You can help them understand what is going on by asking them to describe what they are feeling and helping them to label the appropriate emotion(s).

Step 5: Help your child solve problems with limits

All emotions are acceptable – but not all behaviours. Help your children cope with their emotions by developing problem-solving skills. Limit the expression to appropriate behaviours. This involves helping them to set goals and generate solutions to reach those goals. Guiding your child this way teaches them to recognise their own emotions and to think for themselves on ways to guide their behaviour more positively in the future.

Although the time taken to complete these steps can be initially significant, Gottman found that emotion-coaching parents followed all five steps only 20%-25% of the time. So, you do not need to feel guilty if you cannot complete this process all the time.

Why is EQ important?

Study after study have revealed EQ’s importance and that emotional intelligence can predict future success in relationships, health and quality of life. It has been shown that children with high EQ earn better grades, stay in school longer and make healthier choices overall.

Teachers also report that high EQ students are more co-operative and make better leaders in the classroom.

In addition, having high emotional intelligence is a greater predictor of career success than having a high IQ, which means it’s valued by employers looking for candidates who can complete work and get along with people in progressively collaborative workplaces.

As parents, we should put the same importance on nurturing both IQ and EQ in our kids, as both are complementary abilities that work together for our children’s development and success in the future.


Alexius Cheang is a behavioural psychologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my or visit www.mypositiveparenting.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.