Q. I’m concerned about educating my children so they will be smart enough to do well in today’s world. A friend disagrees with me about the importance of I.Q. in predicting who will do well in life. How important is I.Q. in determining success? What characteristics lead to achievement in life? Can these traits be learned or are they fixed at birth or early in childhood?
A. In recent decades parents have been urged to teach and stimulate their infants and children from a young age. Flash cards, educational toys, playing classical music and providing lots of attention to infants is used with the expectation this will increase a child’s I.Q. and assure a child’s success in life.
While early education and stimulation may increase I.Q. slightly and infants and children do flourish with attention, new research indicates that I.Q is not the most important factor leading to health, happiness, and achievement. I.Q. is now believed to contribute only 20 percent to a person’s life success.
“Emotional intelligence” is now touted as more essential to success than I.Q. This concept is described and a wealth of research explored in Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. The term “emotional intelligence” includes characteristics like self-awareness, impulse control, persistence, self-motivation, empathy for others and hope.
People with “emotional intelligence” are able to motivate themselves and they persist in completing tasks even when they face frustrations. They are able to delay gratification and to regulate their moods. They are able to think even in emotion packed situations. They also are optimistic about themselves and about life. These are the characteristics that successful individuals possess.
These skills lead to happier relationships, increased physical health and greater career success. They also correlate with lower incidences of delinquency and drug use in children. Goleman says that children who improve their emotional skills also do better on achievement tests.
A key to “emotional intelligence” is being able to recognize your emotions. Someone who has a bad day may arrive home in an irritable mood and lash out at others without knowing why. When we’re able to recognize our feelings we’re able to use reason to decide how we will handle ourselves. We can control our emotions rather than being controlled by them. Self awareness enables us to use self control without repressing our emotions.
Another significant trait Goleman explores is optimism. Research shows when optimists fail at something they view the failure as temporary and attribute it to something they can change rather than to some lack in themselves impossible to overcome. In contrast, pessimists view failure as permanent and blame themselves.
Another trait of major importance is empathy or the ability to recognize the feelings of others. Goleman tells of a think tank for engineers where the top performers were not the ones with the highest I.Q.s, but those who were popular and good at collaborating with their co-workers. These are the people who got promoted.
The recognition that “emotional intelligence” is more important than I.Q. is good news. These traits can be learned whereas I.Q. is relatively fixed from a young age. We can increase our “emotional intelligence” throughout life!
How can we teach our children “emotional intelligence”? Children learn from our behavior as well as from our words. If we model emotional intelligence they will learn this from us. We must understand that their growth toward maturity is a slow process. We must be patient and accept their immaturity while applauding each sign that they are becoming more emotionally mature. We need to be realistic about their abilities or lacks but also optimistic and loving about them also. Our optimism greatly affects their belief in themselves.
Dr. Goleman doesn’t address “spiritual intelligence”. I dare say that a child who grows up in a loving church and develops a strong faith in God and His Word will be even more mature, intelligent and optimistic.
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” Psalm 119:130