Life Lesson Six: Emotional Intelligence: awareness, reflection and regulation

Even with the immaturity of the impulse center of the brain and the unbalanced hormonal fluctuations that they face on a daily basis, adolescents need to be able to understand, manage and use their emotions effectively. This discussion will focus on a teen’s Emotional Intelligence (EI). According to Wikipedia, Emotional Intelligence is “the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieve one’s goals.”

Having fine-tuned Emotional Intelligence skills often predicts a person’s success in social and emotional situations. This skill helps people build strong and positive relationships, make good decisions, and deal with difficult or challenging situations. In other words, it’s the ability to read social or emotional cues and be ‘people-smart’. If a person can get along well with others, use appropriate feelings, have empathy, control impulses and cope with negative emotions, then it is highly probable that he or she will be successful in most areas of life. Some people have naturally high EI abilities while others do not. The good news is that for those who have trouble with social and emotional situations, there are things they can do to improve these skills.

In a recent study called ‘Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness’, researchers found that “the kindergarteners who were regarded by their teachers to be more socially competent – as measured by helpfulness to others, willingness to share and a capacity to resolve their own peer problems – were, by age 25, more likely to have graduated from college, be in full-time employment, less likely to have been arrested and less likely to be in public housing or on a public housing waitlist than students who weren’t as socially able.” This research implies that it is never too early to help foster the emotional intelligence of children, and that it is important to continue doing so throughout adolescence.

It is human nature to want to understand the world around us as well as the people we encounter each day. It is important to be able to imagine how others might feel in certain situations or why they feel the way they do. This is called being empathetic. Empathy helps people care about others as well as build good friendships and relationships. Learning to be empathetic can help guide adolescents on what to say and how to behave around someone who is feeling or showing strong emotions. By teaching children how to be kind, how to listen, how to forgive, and how to agree to disagree, parents are helping build the framework for the future emotional and social successes of their children.

Managing emotional reactions means choosing how and when to express the emotions being felt. Good emotional managers react to situations in positive and productive ways. Most things in life revolve around choices. People who manage their emotions well know they can choose the way they react instead of letting emotions influence them to do or say things they may regret later. They know how to gauge when it is better to wait before acting on or reacting to their feelings. And finally, they know that their reactions influence how other people respond in various situations.

Being able to regulate, or use, emotions gives adolescents the power to decide what emotion is right for a situation, and then to get into that mood. Choosing the right emotion can help with motivation, concentration, and determination in various situations. Adolescents need to know that emotions are not just things that happen to them, and that they can control their emotions by knowing how to use which mood is best for a particular situation.

Remember that words can be interpreted as positive and uplifting or as critical and demeaning. People don’t always remember the exact words that are spoken, but they usually remember how those words made them feel. It is their interpretation of these words that will influence the feelings with which they connect and relate to the rest of the world.

Children and teens need to be aware of their own emotions as well as the emotions of others. There are no good or bad emotions, but there are good and bad ways of expressing them appropriately. Rather than simply reacting emotionally to a situation, youngsters can learn to watch for emotional cues, reflect and use their words to solve problems.

Parents as well as other important adult figures should focus on being supportive coaches and role models for their children when it comes to expressing and interpreting emotions effectively. Paying attention to emotions is a way to build self-awareness, and help us to understand other people, our reactions, and ourselves.

Life skills: preparing adolescents for adulthood is part of a 10-week series that will run in the Caloosa Belle.

Amanda can be reached at

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