What is Emotional Intelligence?

The technical definition

Emotional Intelligence is an individual’s ability to understand and use emotion in himself and others. According to leading researchers in the field Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, this includes not only the ability to perceive emotion, but also the ability to evaluate and then express emotion. Salovey and Mayer have pinpointed four branches of emotional intelligence. These are perceiving emotion, reasoning with emotion, understanding emotions and managing emotions.

Huh, what does that mean?

Do you know someone who always knows exactly what to say in every unique situation? This is the person who says the one simple thing that makes you feel better when you need it. This is the parent who seems to innately understand how to comfort her crying child, even when the event that made the child cry seems insignificant to others. People like this have a high level of emotional intelligence, or EI as some call it.

Emotional IntelligenceUnderstanding EI starts with understanding the four branches.

1. Perceivingemotion is the ability to accurately notice emotions. This may mean noticing body language and other nonverbal cues. For instance, a mom may notice that her child is sucking on his fingers when she takes him to the babysitter’s for the first time. If she is emotionally intelligent, she may connect that behavior with the emotion of fear in a new environment.

2. Next, an emotionally intelligent person will reason using emotion. This involves using emotions to guide thinking and prioritizing. A parent who is highly emotionally intelligent will use his emotions with prioritizing activities for his family.

3. Have you ever wished you understood what your child was really thinking? The third branch of emotional intelligence helps with this. Understanding emotions means looking beyond the emotional behavior to perceive the underlying cause. The emotionally intelligent parent will realize that a child who is throwing a tantrum may not be misbehaving, but rather may be expressing frustration at being denied a treat in the only way she knows how.

4. Finally, emotional intelligence involves managing emotions. Most parents will confess to the occasional loss of control over their own emotions in the heat of parenting. Emotional intelligence gives a frazzled mom the ability to regulate her emotions and respond appropriately to them, thus modeling proper emotional responses for her children.

How do I use this in my life?

Do you enjoy being around people who really seem to understand you and how you feel? Most people do, and your children are the same way. By becoming an emotionally intelligent parent (person), you will develop a deeper connection with your children (those you love). By raising emotionally intelligent children, you will poise them for success in any area of life that involves working with others.

Here are some action steps you can use to increase your emotionally intelligence in parenting or just life:

  • Help your child label their emotions. Youthlings do not have the life experience that you have. When they encounter something “scary” for the first time, they may actually be scared. What’s even scarier is if they are unfamiliar with their feelings. For older kids, new emotions may have to do with anxiety or jealousy or myriad of emotions which come along life’s journey. Help them to figure out which emotions they are feeling.
  • Empathize and let them know you get it. Youthlings don’t have the wisdom to know that their situation is going to be okay, so avoid just saying “it’s going to be okay.” Instead, empathize and put yourself your child’s shoes. Convey the idea that you understand what they are going through. Explore their emotions with them. Your empathy validates their feelings and teaches them that getting reflecting on their emotions is okay.
  • After the two steps above, help your youthling with a problem-solving process. Ask your child what their ideal outcome would be from whatever it is they are going through. Set a goal and then begin to map out paths to achieve that goal. It would be easy to jump in and create the plan for them, yet it would a far better learning experience for them if you made it a team effort!


Salovey, P., Brackett, M. A., & Mayer, J. D. (2004). Emotional intelligence: key readings on the Mayer and Salovey model. Port Chester, N.Y.: Dude Pub.

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