“Good,” “OK” and “fine” are forbidden words if you’re a patient of Dennielle McIver, MS, LPC, NCC at Pediatric and Adult Behavioral Counseling in Bloomfield Hills. McIver wants her patients to use different words to describe their feelings.
“When kids are able to label their feelings, there’s a huge transformation within a month to three months,” says McIver, who works with ages 6 and older. “I’m not telling them what to do. I’m just teaching them different feeling words. I’m challenging them to learn more feeling words, because they know (not to) come in my office and tell me (they) feel ‘good.'”
It’s all part of her effort to teach kids – and even adults – how to be emotionally intelligent. Also known as EQ, emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to perceive, understand and regulate his or her emotions. And, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, emotional intelligence in children plays a role in a student’s academic success, too.
Kids with higher emotional intelligence achieved higher test scores and got better grades than those with lower EQ. It’s not surprising, McIver says.
“Children who are emotionally intelligent have the ability to use creativeness, they are self-motivated to learn and, because of that, it helps them academically and socially,” she says.
While a child might have a high IQ and pass all of her tests with 100% scores, she may not have the emotional regulation to manage negative feelings, such as frustration and disappointment, McIver says. In the long run, the inability to identify and control emotions, in addition to the inability to have empathy and notice the social world around you, can impact a person’s career and personal life.
“Some children are born compassionate and aware of feelings; they just might not be able to label them effectively. But it is something they can learn,” she says.
Here, McIver discusses how.
EQ in the classroom and beyond
A child might feel some serious frustration if her teacher overlooks her after she’s raised her hand several times to answer questions. As a result, she might lash out and get in trouble for her behavior and, over time, could be labeled a “bad kid.”
“There’s no such thing as a kid who wants to be bad. There’s no such thing as a child who goes out of their way to get in trouble,” McIver notes. “Emotions drive us to make the choices and the behavior that we make.”
In order to get a better look at how EQ plays into academic success, researchers examined data compiled from more than 160 studies between 1998 and 2019 that included more than 42,000 students – ranging in age from elementary to college – from 27 countries. What they found is that students who could manage their emotions did better academically – whether it was test scores or overall grades.
“Having emotional intelligence for children specifically helps them become better learners and helps them make better decisions. It helps them make friends and keep friends,” she says. “It helps build stronger relationships with their parents, their teachers, who they choose as a partner as adults.”
“It’s fine. Don’t talk about it.”
Acting strong and emotionless is something parents might do in front of their kids, but they should be doing the exact opposite, McIver says.
“I think parents are scared to talk about feelings. They will say something like, ‘suck it up’ or ‘go to your room and calm down,'” she says.
Instead of giving children permission to feel, parents are disciplining them because of what their emotions are motivating them to do, she says. They don’t ask why kids are acting the way they are acting – and that’s an issue. That’s why parents need to become emotionally intelligent, too, “because if we don’t know what emotional intelligence is, we can’t teach it to our kids.”
As parents, label your emotions. If you’re feeling stressed or sad, say it. In other words, model to your children that it’s OK to feel.
“If you’re sad and you’ve had a bad day at work, cry. Tell kids why you’re crying. Give yourself permission to feel as a parent. If parents give themselves permission to feel and do it in safe way, that child is learning (EQ),” she says.
Practicing mindfulness – being aware and in the moment – is also valuable.
Download the Mood Meter app, McIver adds, which was developed by the Marc Brackett, Ph.D. and Robin Stern, Ph.D. from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. This app guides people of all ages through how they feel, why they have the feeling, selecting a strategy to shift your feelings, personal reports to track feelings and reminders to check-in with yourself.