Can you teach emotional intelligence? Should it be taught in schools?

The New York Times Magazine had an excellent story last weekend looking at schools across the country that are trying to teach “emotional intelligence” to their students.  The article reports that tens of thousands of emotional-literacy programs are running across the country.

Emotional intelligence or emotional literacy helps people understand and manage their feelings. It helps them not over-react to a situation or incorrectly interpret a situation. It teaches children to recognize where they are emotionally, calm down and analyze what their next step should be instead of just reacting.

A strong emotional IQ can also help a child learn better.

Advocates say that emotional literacy is THE missing piece in American education, but it’s hard to evaluate programs’ success because just addressing it tends to show improvement. And it’s also hard to know how to go about teaching it. Lesson plans are all over the place from scripted lessons to free-form debates more like a philosophy class.

From The New York Times Magazine: (This is very in-depth story and I can only pull three or so graphs so please click the link and read the whole thing. It is fascinating.)

“The theory that kids need to learn to manage their emotions in order to reach their potential grew out of the research of a pair of psychology professors — John Mayer, at the University of New Hampshire, and Peter Salovey, at Yale. In the 1980s, Mayer and Salovey became curious about the ways in which emotions communicate information, and why some people seem more able to take advantage of those messages than others. While outlining the set of skills that defined this “emotional intelligence,” Salovey realized that it might be even more influential than he had originally suspected, affecting everything from problem solving to job satisfaction: “It was like, this is predictive!”…

“In the years since, a number of studies have supported this view. So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures. A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success. Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier.”

“It may also make children smarter. Davidson notes that because social-emotional training develops the prefrontal cortex, it can also enhance academically important skills like impulse control, abstract reasoning, long-term planning and working memory. Though it’s not clear how significant this effect is, a 2011 meta-analysis found that K-12 students who received social-emotional instruction scored an average of 11 percentile points higher on standardized achievement tests. A similar study found a nearly 20 percent decrease in violent or delinquent behavior.”

Many programs teach self-talk and breathing exercises to help a student calm and think before they act.  The abilities to stop and calm down are huge for children.

Many programs also often teach reframing. Reframing is the ability to stop and think about an event and decide if it was really what is seemed. It teaches a person to take a logical approach, instead of emotional approach, to examining events or comments in our lives. So for example, was the class really laughing at me or were they just laughing?

Another program teaches the Mood Meter, which sounds similar to the Zones of Regulation to me. It asks kids to reflect and think critically about where they are at mood-wise and do they need to adjust. So for example red in the Mood Meter means angry and in the Zones of Regulation it means over-stimulated. So in either case the kid needs to use some skills, such as deep breathing or self-talk, to calm down.

I love these types of emotional intelligence skills, and we work on these at home within our family. We definitely have family members that over-react to things and we talk about was that an appropriate reaction? What zone are you in? How can you calm down and react in a more appropriate manner. I think for kids to be self-aware and manage their emotions are huge accomplishments and definitely something families can be working on as well as the schools. (I think it’s also good for parents too. We get stressed and over-react.  I am working on managing my worry levels and positive reframing so I don’t pass that stress to my kids.)

So what do you think of emotional intelligence? Are you a believer? Do you think it should be taught at school? Do you think this would help your child? Do your work on skills like this at home?

32 comments Add your comment


September 17th, 2013
5:35 am

If it can be defined and described, it can be taught. Should it? With the domestic violence problem we have in this country, road rage, spree violence, etc.? Heck yes!

Dr. Wanda Bonet-Gascot

September 17th, 2013
5:56 am

Totally agree. Emotional Intelligence is a critical skill for everybody and must be teach at schools. As a mom and Emotional Intelligence Facilitator, I’m witness of the benefits of learning and practicing emotional intelligence.


September 17th, 2013
6:30 am

Why leave anything to parents?? How can school be all to children? Schools are yearly having to add items to teach children because the parents are doing nothing. Pretty soon schools will be asked to give birth.

Sherry Huiner

September 17th, 2013
6:55 am

I approach this question from the standpoint of being the mother of a son who is diagnosed ‘high functioning autistic.’ He has received special education services since he was 3. Much of that education was in exactly this kind of thing, helping him recognize and deal with the emotions/feelings of others and of himself. I am confident that it can be taught because I have seen the amazing benefit it has had on my now 16 year old.


September 17th, 2013
7:05 am

Enter your comments herepARENTS can and should be giving their children opportunities to develop many “soft” skills like ccoeration, industry, perseverance, etc. it is not and,should not be,the,responsibility of the schools to do EVERYTHING!


September 17th, 2013
7:17 am

Obviously I should have taken more opportunities to develop typing skills.

How did we let it get to this?

September 17th, 2013
7:46 am

Government schools can’t even manage to teach basic reading, writing, and math, despite the fact that plenty of great successful people in our history managed to teach these things to themselves.

Shut these failed institutions down before they do more harm.


September 17th, 2013
8:08 am

It should be taught at home. It is a necessary life skill and yes it needs to be learned. Should it be taught in school…HECK NO! School/Govt is not the answer to everything. Schools need to work on reading, writing, and math.


September 17th, 2013
8:15 am

For once I agree wholeheartedly with FCM. There is so much academic knowledge that isn’t getting taught in schools (because they teach to the tests) – forget this soft stuff. Teach them math, science, grammer, literature.


September 17th, 2013
8:35 am

Seize the kids of unfit parents and the number of unfit parents will decrease.


September 17th, 2013
8:43 am

It’s a problem solving skill, just solving a different kind of problem. It’s right on a par with health class — “wash your hands”, “exercise”, “nutrition”, etc. It’s a disciplinary approach that allows a student to develop self-discipline — which is A Good Thing. And I mean “discipline” in its purest sense: “To Teach”.


September 17th, 2013
9:33 am

I agree with DB. It’s great to say parents should teach this, but if they aren’t, then addressing it in school could be beneficial to everyone. It seems like spending a little time teaching this in school could boost academics by reducing conflict and discipline problems.

Real Life

September 17th, 2013
9:53 am

Parents are the foundation for teaching emotional intelligence. Schools might be able to supplement it, but primary responsibility lies at home. No class will provide a positive parental role model, particularly in homes where no father is involved at all. Classes will not make up for homes where there is no emphasis on education and no structure and boundaries for the children to support what they learn in these emotional intelligence classes. Such classes do not make up for parents who are more concerned about themselves than they are with parenting.
These self-help classes might work some, but will be mostly ineffective if adequate support and guidance is not found in the home. And this is a problem that cuts across class, racial, religious and other such social divisions.


September 17th, 2013
10:10 am

Sounds like sound problem solving skills to me. Observe and assess the situation before you act on it.

@catlady, what did you mean by “industry”? Not familiar with it in that context.

Young Lady

September 17th, 2013
10:20 am

Yes you can teach it outside of the home. It could be the parents don’t have an effective method of teaching it, or like my parents, their child had issues with understanding it. Honestly a lot of this already exists in special education today and the issue is really identifying who needs it. That’s not always clear because as a bright student, my grades didn’t indicate I had an issue but my social interactions did.

I probably would have still needed outside services but having internal support from the school would have helped identify the issue sooner and got intervention sooner.


September 17th, 2013
11:48 am

Real life said it the best. Whatever it is that you want learned has to show up in other areas of the child’s life. Primarily the home.

I would say that it is more important for single parent (regardless of parent gender) to establish those things that Real Life mentioned: education, structure, boundries. A single parent needs to be very selfless, but these areas can be addressed in a single parent home. So while I agree it is harder where a parent is MIA, or as Real Life points to a lack of father, I do think the basics are same.

Bottom line for anyone who is a parent and especially those thinking of becoming a parent: It is a LONG TERM commitment and there is no exit door to it if you want to raise a good/healthy kid. You owe to the kid to parent them, and do not expect the schools/others/gov’t to do it for you.


September 17th, 2013
11:55 am

What if a parent does not have a high EQ? How can he/she teach it successfully? My mother is highly dramatic and overreacts. I tend to get emotional and overreact as well to some things as well. She pushes my buttons and I definitely react to what she says in the same manner in which she delivers it. I know I should not and I TRY not to but that is our dynamic even into my adulthood. (My father told her once that she was NEVER to call me or my brother with bad news because she upset us about stuff that was not as life-or-death as she presented it.) I don’t have this response to MOST other people though I have high anxiety – like my mother – in a lot of situations. So I guess my EQ is not 0 but my mother definitely could not have taught me any emotional intelligence.

I learned what emotional intelligence was through reading and therapy as an adult. That is the only reason I am not crazy as a loon. Learning coping and reasoning skills earlier in life would have made life a lot easier and more enjoyable for me. Whether it is a school’s responsibility, I can’t say, but I would have appreciated it then.

Ross Brodie

September 17th, 2013
12:30 pm


Your article hits at the exact issues that my wife and I have been working on with therapists, educators, and psychologists over the last few years. Our newly launched “at home” DVD/Activity Kit, Emotional ABC’s, is designed to help kids learn their basic emotional skills and the program is also specifically designed to show parents “what to do”. Most of us were never taught basic emotional skills in a formal setting so it is extremely difficult for us now to “model” these skills to our kids. Emotional ABC’s is a parenting resource that shows children (and parents!) what to do to in simple, easy to learn steps. It really can be as simple as A, B, and C.


September 17th, 2013
12:53 pm

Sounds like Common Sense 101.


September 17th, 2013
1:18 pm

My kid’s school has a counselor come into the classroom I think twice a month and they talk about feelings and emotions in dealing with frustrations and life situations. I think it’s a good thing but not absolutely necessary. We teach this at home as well, but we aren’t perfect either. My husband (and his entire family) are prone to anxiety issues, so it’s nice to have an outside voice confirming what we are saying. My 8 year old is dyslexic and struggles with her emotions (ie wild tantrums) when she is frustrated with school work. I sometimes hear her saying to herself.. “calm down, calm down and counting to 10″ as she trying to bring herself back under control.

Maybe there would be less violence if there was stronger emotional health….


September 17th, 2013
1:49 pm

In the old days, emotional education and resiliency were supposed to have been taught in health class. Funny, all through elementary school, I was issued health textbooks and I received a grade for health class but actual instruction took place sporadically, if at all. Having gone through a teaching career myself, I am forced to conclude that elementary teachers in the 1960’s had barely enough time to try to teach the “three R’s” with maybe a little social studies (Propoganda 101) and science (We had to beat the Russians to the moon, remember?) thrown in without having to take on the extra stuff that we never did or almost never did but always received a grade for like physical education, music, or health.


September 17th, 2013
2:01 pm

Nobody here has said EQ is not important. The question is do we continue to overburden the school system, which cannot adequately handle the basics with this task. Where does the money come from to support the program? The school systems are constantly under budget cuts which end up hurting the students learning even more (ex: larger classes, fewer teachers, parents needing to pay for “resource teachers” like the sceince lab). How about getting the basics back under control, especially class size and more teachers on payroll…then we can address all the ills of the world.


September 17th, 2013
3:07 pm

No, the question is not whether we continue to overburden the school system — that question assumes focusing on EQ would overburden it. It’s entirely possible that including this in the school day could make education more efficient. The question is: would focusing on EQ be beneficial enough to be worth adding to the curriculum? I think it probably would be. It could prove to be a relatively low-cost way to boost learning in all subjects and reduce discipline problems.


September 17th, 2013
3:19 pm

HB…the schools cannot stand in as parents just b/c a some people gave birth and want to abdacte their role.


September 17th, 2013
4:14 pm

I imagine a lot people felt that way about school in general at one point — why can’t parents just teach their kids math? If parents have low emotional intelligence, how are they supposed to teach it? Would they even know they’re not teaching their kids something they should? It’s easy to say it’s the parents’ place to teach this and move on, but teachers/schools might be able to make their own jobs easier by addressing this issue. And it could be more efficient and effective than reducing class size by 3 or 4 students. It’s certainly worth looking into.


September 17th, 2013
4:22 pm

Teaching ‘emotional intelligence’ would require teaching students morality, empathy and self-control – you know, right from wrong. Do you actually think liberal bed-wetters would stand for that in public school nowadays?


September 18th, 2013
11:46 am

“Industry” as in being a hard worker, industrious, diligent, wise use of time and other resources.


September 18th, 2013
2:02 pm

During adolescence the human brain is intensely focused on building the type of social skills we want our peers to have. Students at Arthur Morgan School, a boarding middle school for 7th, 8th, and 9th grades learn these skills by living with their peers and their teachers. The 27 students and 18 staff form a close knit community while living on 130 acres of forest and a working farm. Students care for the livestock, do all the chores and maintenance of the campus. The school goes on 3 day, 6 day, and 8 day wilderness trips as well as an 18 day field trip. After 50 years the schools entire year is designed to maximize the growth of the middle schooler through the celebration of adolescence.

Steve Buchalter

September 19th, 2013
5:44 am

I can only speak from experience. I have read up on EQ and am not only a confirmed believer from the literature that it can both make a significant difference and be taught… BUT….. I have had personally used a “tool” (i suppose you would call it) called “EQ in a Box” with my 2 children and I has made a huge difference. It was simple, easy to use and had a profound impact quickly. PS It was also reasonably priced


September 19th, 2013
10:58 am

@ FCM – So, would you suggest that the schools call Mommy and Daddy every time two kids get into a disagreement, or is it okay for the teacher or principal to share some skills “on the spot” to help the kids sort through and resolve conflict?

Some of this is basic logic and reasoning skills. Logic and reasoning are taught in many other academic class subjects, so this is about applying those skills to emotional conflict situations. We often hear parent complaints that schools do not make the leap to how academic skills learned are applied in life – how the dots are connected. This is an example of connecting those dots to help deal with daily life situations.

Emotional intelligence should be taught and encouraged by both parents and schools. I don’t think this is an issue of parental neglect. My husband had highly educated and involved parents. As an adult, however, his emotional intelligence IQ is quite low. Some of it may be due to how his personality is wired; but, I think that can be overcome to an extent by learned skills. This creates stress, anxiety, and mild depression for him and plenty of stress sometimes for the rest of the family. He can be affected emotionally by comments, etc., from coworkers regarding things that would “roll off my back” much more easily. I would gladly pay $100,000 today to someone who could teach it to him now, successfully, at this stage of his life.

Kids are at school for many hours of the day, with lots of time in close quarters that will result in numerous conflicts and disagreements. For schools to ignore this as a domain of “parents only” would be odd and impractical. Helping kids learn these important life schools will help the students focus during academic class time, as well.

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