Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, assess and control your emotions. This isn’t a new term, as theorists have been discussing the topic since the early 1900s. But recently, the phrase has been brought up as a way to curb bullying in children. Dr. Donna Housman, a psychologist and expert in emotional intelligence, believes that if children are able to better control their emotions they will be able to resolve issues in a more productive and civil way.
“How we become aware of our emotions and how we begin to express them and deal with them are critical in terms of life success,” she says. “What is really important is helping children from a very early age to start becoming aware of what they’re feeling and to help them begin to learn how to express in an appropriate and constructive way what these feelings are.”
Those who can’t adequately express their feelings can resort to lashing out and bullying, a problem that will affect 13 million children in the U.S. alone this year.
In order to prevent bullying, Housman says parents and educators need to help children effectively express their emotions and explore ways to resolve conflict without aggression. “We need to help rechannel what gets so naturally expressed in action into words — because once they can start to express it in words, they’re starting to use cognition and thinking.”
Let it all out
Housman believes children should always feel like they can express their feelings, no matter what they are. “Lots of times, unfortunately, children are taught to feel a certain way — so they’re taught to repress or hide their feelings. These feelings are there no matter what. … If they’re going to come out, let us have them come out in constructive ways.”
It starts at home
Parents need to consider their own feelings and the ways in which they express them to help relay a positive message to their children, Dr. Housman notes.
“Children learn in the context of a relationship,” she says. “They observe, they imitate and they respond to how we respond to them. So it’s important for us as adults to be able to become aware of our emotions first.”