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EI About Balance, Character

The first time I heard the term 'emotional intelligence' I instinctively knew what it meant. We all grew up knowing about IQ, usually attributed to the brainy one in the group who knew all the answers but could be a bit thick about all the other stuff. The absentminded professor is an image that comes to mind when we think of the smartest among us.

Emotional intelligence refers to the level-headed, capable people who can handle a crisis, manage a crowd and bring calm to group while making everyone feel ready to move forward. It is about behaviour and character and it is more about managing oneself than managing others, although that can naturally follow. At one time, we may have described it as being a "natural leader." But really, none of this is a full description of emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman, who wrote the book Emotional Intelligence in 1995, developed a framework that begins with two basic categories: personal competence, which is self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-motivation; and social competence that includes social awareness and social skills. Within these categories, Goleman identifies five domains beginning with knowing your emotions, managing your emotions, motivating yourself, recognizing and understanding the emotions of others, and managing relationships.

The benefits of emotional intelligence are numerous. Probably the most significant in our modern society is the ability to reduce stress in one's life by recognizing that you are stressed, knowing how you usually respond to stress, and then changing your response so that it works for you instead of against you. A quick example is learning to walk away from a conflict instead of losing your head and letting loose with the insults.

Over the years since I first learned about EI, there has been considerable development to the theory. Most notable is the impact to the workplace when EI is considered from a competency perspective, and in school systems as a tool to address bullying, violence, drug abuse, and other destructive and disruptive behaviours. Recently I reviewed the results of a meta-analy-sis of over 600 studies in the U.S. that measured the effectiveness of an EI program in the schools called Social Emotional Learning. The SEL program yielded a 50% improvement in academic scoring, a 28% reduction in behavioural issues, and an impressive 44% drop in school suspensions. Schools reported an increase in positivity in the school environment.

What does the SEL program contain that brings about such impressive changes? Mostly it focuses on character by teaching kids to develop self-awareness and confidence, it offers them the tools to manage disturbing emotions and impulses, and it increases empathy for others. The goal is to improve behaviour and to develop the social and emotional competencies to navigate the world.

Goleman's conclusion regarding the success of SEL in schools is that it is reshaping the neural circuitry in children.

Everything begins with the individual. If your child is self-aware and confident and can regulate his emotions, that goes a long way to achieving a well-balanced life.