Scholastic Early Childhood Today, January 1999, pg.29-30
What exactly is emotional intelligence?
Howard Gardner was one of the first researchers to view intelligence broadly.
In recent years, a growing group of psychologist has come to agree
with his theory of multiple intelligence. Yale psychologist Peter Salovey
expands Gardner's category
of personal intelligence into five main domains that make up emotional
These abilities combine to foster self-esteem and leadership and interpersonal effectiveness.
Why is it important for teachers and parents of young children to understand emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence begins to develop in the earliest years. All the small exchanges children have with their parents, teachers, and with each other carry emotional messages. These messages repeat over and over to form the core of a child's emotional outlook and capabilities. A little girl who finds a puzzle frustrating might ask her busy mother (or teacher) for help. The child gets one message if her mother expresses clear pleasure at the request and quite another if mommy responds with a curt "Don't bother me - I've got important work to do." Such encounters mold children's emotional expectations about relationships, outlooks that will influence their functioning in all realms of life, for better or worse.
During the first three or four years of life, the brain grows to about two thirds its full size and evolves in complexity at a greater rate than it ever will again. During this period, key kinds of learning take place more readily than later in life - emotional learning foremost among them.
What can teachers do to help develop emotional intelligence?
Teachers need to be comfortable talking about feelings. This is part of teaching emotional literacy - a set of skills we can all develop, including the ability to read, understand, and respond appropriately to one's own emotions and the emotions of others.
Emotional "literacy" implies an expanded responsibility for schools in helping to socialize children. This daunting task requires two major changes: that teachers go beyond their traditional mission and that people in the community become more involved with schools as both active participants in children's learning and as individual mentors.
There is no area where the ability of the teacher matters so much, since how a teacher handles his or her class is in itself a model, a de facto lesson in emotional competence - or lack thereof. Whenever a teacher responds to one student, 20 or 30 others learn a lesson, and these lessons can be useful (for example, learning in the earliest school years to control impulses or recognize feelings). You can teach about the most basic emotions, such as happiness and anger, to the youngest children and later touch on more complicated feelings, such as jealousy, pride, and guilt. The basic premise that children must learn about emotions is that all feelings are okay to have; however, only some reactions are okay.
Key Ingredients of Emotional Intelligence
In his book Emotional Intelligence, Dr. Goleman explains that whether or not children arrive at school with the ability to learn depends greatly on how much the important adults in their lives have given them these seven key ingredients (adapted from Heart Start: The Emotional Foundations of School Readiness by the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs).
Read more about this important subject in Daniel Goldman's books Emotional Intelligence (Bantam, 1995) and Working With Emotional Intelligence (Bantam, 1998).