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Summer camps across the nation are building the emotional IQ of the children who arrive, and many never knew it. They teach children to share equipment, to take leadership roles, and to feel the satisfaction of accomplishment after finishing a challenging obstacle course.

They “learn much about themselves, their own strengths and abilities. . . [They] build new life skills for themselves. Meeting these challenges brings true self-esteem, the kind that is earned, not empty words. Talking about self-esteem or trying to bolster it in kids does not work without real challenge in safe and supportive [activities],” wrote Posie Taylor (“Camp’s secret weapon: The buzz about emotional intelligence and your child”).

I don’t think a parent needs a summer camp to raise children with healthy emotional intelligence. They can call up moms and organize their own day hike, water circus, or bicycle derby. Be part of the activity, encourage cooperation, taking turns, and helping others. Use the conflicts that arise as teaching moments.

Child psychologists suggest that a child’s emotional health can greatly determine his academic achievement, success in a future career, the quality of future relationships, and even their physical health. A child with a strong emotional intelligence will behave better, strengthen their family ties, and quarrel less with siblings.

Daniel Goleman, discussed a model in his book, Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, that focuses on competencies and skills. His model outlines four EI constructs:
1. Self-awareness – the ability to read one’s emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
2. Self-management – involves controlling one’s emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.
3. Social awareness – the ability to sense, understand, and react to others’ emotions while comprehending social networks.
4. Relationship management – the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict.

Another way of classifying these standards is: 1. Perceiving emotions, 2. Using emotions, 3. Understanding emotions, and 4. Managing emotions.

You can check your own EI through an Emotional IQ test. This link leads to a 10 question mini test with a full test available after.

Here are four specific ways you could help your child improve their EI. (From Nikki Giant, a freelance educator specializing in writing for schools and parents about bullying and emotional literacy. Giant holds a Diploma in Counseling and a Bachelor of Arts in general illustration from Swansea Institute in Wales.)

1. Improve emotional vocabulary to help children behave more calmly.
“Children who can verbally describe their feelings are better equipped to communicate their needs. Researchers at the University of Colorado found that children with a wider emotional vocabulary were more able . . . to develop social and emotional competence for later life. Encourage children to match photographs of people to feelings labels and model using emotional language to help build children’s awareness.”

[If you use a poster like this one: You could cover the labels and make strips of paper for the child to place beneath each face.]

2. Work and play together to resolve conflict.
“A characteristic of emotionally intelligent people is their ability to appropriately resolve conflict and communicate with others, building relationships with ease. Use board games or imaginative play to teach turn-taking skills, sharing and cooperation, rewarding appropriate behavior with a small prize or praise. Communicating expectations, rules and repercussions for breaking rules will establish boundaries that children can adhere to.”

[I didn’t realize there was more to playing Candyland as a child than the ever-hopeful idea that maybe this time I’ll land on the “Rainbow Trail.”]

3. A goal chart can help to keep children on track
“Teaching children the skill of creating and meeting goals can lead to success with school work, on the sports field and with everyday behavior. Create a goal chart with objectives broken down into simple targets that children can reach. Encourage children to monitor their progress and explore “failures” as learning opportunities to keep children engaged and help them succeed next time.”

4. Many children’s books address emotional themes
“Take advantage of opportunities throughout the day for children to build empathy and discuss feelings, such as after an argument or tantrum. Many children’s books explore themes such as loss, loneliness, jealousy and joy, which can be used as a talking point about their own experiences and to develop empathy for others.”

[One of my favorite books as a child was “Where the Red Fern Grows.” It helped me process my own grief over the loss of my dog. “Anne of Green Gables” is a wonderful example of a girl who, despite some large challenges in her early years, finds ways to see the good in every day.]

Don’t worry if you are unhappy with the results of the EIQ test. (In other words, don’t let a test to see if you are emotionally healthy send you into the depths of despair.) This test is unlike standard IQ tests in that its items do not have objectively correct responses. My score changed dramatically from two different tests. I just chose the score I liked best and shrugged off the other one. Besides, the experts will list half a dozen reasons why they don’t care for the tests, but I figured this blog post was already too long. (OK, go ahead and say it, “Whew.”)

You might also enjoy Family Dinner Time or The Value of Family Work. Also, any of the articles listed under Emotional IQ found in the menu to the right.

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