Boosting Your Child's Emotional Intelligence

Dr. Ashley Vigil-Otero

Over the years, views of intelligence have expanded and psychologists now have a more comprehensive understanding of multiple intelligences.  Countless studies have indicated that there are a variety of factors beyond IQ that contribute to an individual's personal success.  These factors or "master skills" are often related to an individual's Social and Emotional Intelligence or "EQ."  Dr. Vigil-Otero encourages all parents to expand traditional views of intelligence and incorporate social and emotional learning in their parenting and family life.  The EQ skills and abilities, discussed below, have been identified as master skills that  foster success and effectiveness and prepare children for life and learning. As Dr. Martin Seligman suggests in his book, The Optimistic Child, bolstering these skills can be like a "psychological immunization" for your child.  


Emotional Intelligence (EQ) involves social and emotional "master skills" that are believed to foster success and effectiveness.  Parents and teachers who foster emotional intelligence in children are essentially maximizing a child's potential, building resilience and preparing a child for both life and learning. EQ involves persistence, optimism, emotional regulation and self-motivation.  These skills are often more critical to overall life success than one's intellectual ability or test scores. Watch Dr. Vigil-Otero discuss emotional intelligence on Fox Good Day Tampa Bay.

EQ can be classified within the following domains: 

1. Self-Awareness: Knowing One's Emotions

2. Managing Emotions: Optimism, Realistic Thinking   &         Problem Solving

3. Empathy: Recognizing Emotions in Others

4. Motivating Oneself: Persistence and Perseverance

5. Social Skills: Interpersonal Problem Solving &               Managing Relationships


Boosting a child's emotional intelligence is essentially equipping a child with critical skills to deal with life's challenges.  These emotional and social skills can be taught, nurtured and enhanced throughout childhood. IQ, on the other hand, is thought to be largely influenced by genetics. Thus, by promoting emotional intelligence,  parents and educators can pick up where nature left off. Childhood is thought to be a critical window of opportunity to enhance emotional skills.  Parents are encouraged to seize this opportunity to ultimately prepare children for life and learning.   In today's fast-paced world, filled with the explosion of electronic media, it is now more important than ever to foster resilience and build inner preparedness in our youth.


Parents' time is the most critical ingredient in building inner preparedness and resilience.  Dr. Vigil lists a few additional strategies that parents can integrate into their child's life. 

  1. Encourage children to verbalize their feelings.  Send your child the message that feelings matter. Feeling charts or games can also be a helpful way to promote emotional literacy. Use reflective statements to validate how your child feels.
  2. Teach the importance of nonverbal behavior.
  3. Create anger rules at home; let your children know that it is OK to feel angry, but not OK to yell, hit, or damage property.  Parents should also model staying calm.  Families can have meetings about how to stay calm and designate a quiet area to go to when upset. 
  4. MODEL OPTIMISM!  Hope and optimism can be learned. Optimism relates to how you explain problems (e.g. in terms that are specific and changeable).  
  5. Be accurate when criticizing.  Avoid making exaggerated critical statements like "you are always so..."
  6. Create and use positive stories that address your child's problem or concern; have the hero of the story engage in realistic and active problem solving regarding a challenging issue they are facing. Get creative.
  7. Encourage your child to act as their own "coach" and teach them to use self-talk strategies; children over six can learn to talk to themselves to improve their performance.
  8. Encourage problem solving by having children weigh pros and cons. Ask questions rather than solving problems for them (e.g. What do you think you can do in this situation?).  Problem solving is learned through experience; by age 8 or 9, children have the ability to weigh pros and cons.
  9. Focus on solutions rather than fixating on the problem in order to help your child learn to overcome obstacles; empathize with your child, but avoid a defeatist attitude.
  10. Teach random acts of kindness; keep a kindness journal as a family. Think simple. 
  11. Participate in community service as a family.
  12. Reward effort, rather than solely focusing on outcome.
  13. Teach that success is often built on failure.
  14. Encourage hobbies (especially those outside of electronic media).  Hobbies are great at teaching the value of effort, while doing something the child enjoys.
  15. Focus on strengths.  Avoid solely criticizing what your child did wrong. Discuss what can be improved upon and praise specific strengths. Catch your child being good. 
  16. Reinforce friendship and provide opportunities for your child to socialize. 
  17. Promote conversational skills. Try not to do all the talking for your child.  Help them learn how to share information, ask questions, be curious, express interest and acceptance of others.
  18. Help your child cope with social rejection-it will happen.  Teach them the difference between being assertive and aggressive.  Teach them to shift their attitude and translate mean messages (put-downs are really about the other guy). Teach your child to use their minds during challenging peer situations.  "Never act as small as the other guy feels." Jim Fay "What is important is not what others say to you, but what you say to yourself about it." Sally Northway
  19. Teach manners, not just because it is a nice thing to do, but because children with great manners are often better liked and have more positive social experiences.  Teach your child about being polite, holding the door, writing thank you notes, etc. This is the easiest EQ skill to teach.
  20. Lastly, there is no such thing as the "perfect parent."  Try to focus on at least one of these strategies, while also being mindful of amplifying your child's strengths and providing experiences for mastery.


The following is a list of references and additional reading.

The Optimistic Child: Proven Program to Safeguard Children from Depression & Build Lifelong Resilience  Seligman

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life Seligman

How to Raise a Child with a High EQ: A Parents' Guide to Emotional Intelligence  Shapiro

Words Will Never Hurt Me: Helping Kids Handle Teasing, Bullying and Putdowns Ogden

Cliques, Phonies, & Other Baloney (Laugh And Learn) Romain

Social awareness + emotional skills=successful kids (APA)


For more information, contact Dr. Ashley Vigil at 813-530-5859.