Emotional Intelligence: How to Teach Emotional Literacy Skills to Teens and Kids

The idea that humans have multiple intelligences, or that every person has their own skill set has been popularized since the 1980’s. Emotional Intelligence, or EQ is one of the models that has grown in importance. Daniel Goleman has spearheaded much of the emotional intelligence research and application in his book “Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ.”

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the skill, capacity, or ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.

Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?

Emotional intelligence is an essential part of our day to day interactions and well-being. I think it is important in three major ways:

  1. Relationships With Others: Having a high emotional IQ helps individuals connect with others and develop deep, fulfilling relationships because they are able to read their companions, and then respond with empathy and compassion. Emotional skills are essential in working and friendly relationships.
  2. Personal Satisfaction and Contentedness: Emotional Intelligence is not only important for your interaction with others, but also for personal well-being. People who are better able to express themselves and distinguish their own emotions–whether that is guilt, anger, fear or even jealousy, are typically happier in life. They also can gauge their well-being and how they can improve it much more easily.
  3. Worldview: Emotional Intelligence helps us be empathetic and compassionate. Our emotional button is often what drives us to help another human being whether that is a homeless person on the street or giving a hand to our mother struggling with the groceries. Those who have low emotional intelligence have trouble giving back and understanding the world around them.

Emotional Intelligence and Teens and Kids

Emotional Intelligence is incredibly important for children and families. Especially as we enter a technological age, emotional skills are becoming less important and therefore less practiced. Children are spending less time with their parents and their peers talking about emotions, or attempting to read and gauge others emotions. Instead, they ‘read’ emotions through text, email, chat or Facebook status updates. Because of this, we must begin to teach our children how to have emotional intelligence skills.

One of my most popular talks for parents and students is emotional and social intelligence. Here are the principles I teach, so you can talk about them in your home or classroom. These are concepts I have pulled together from a variety of the best resources on Emotional Intelligence and then specialized for families, parents, teachers, teens and kids.

  • Self-awareness: This is when the person has the ability to read their own emotions and recognize their impact.
  • Self-management: Once a parent, teen or teacher has identified an emotion they are having. They have to learn to control it or make decisions based on it. Self-management is the ability to use intuition or gut feelings to guide decisions based on their emotions. For teens especially, it involves controlling one’s emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances of their environment.
  • Perceiving Emotions: This is the ability to detect and decipher emotions in faces, pictures, voices, and cultural symbols.
  • Social Awareness: This is the ability to sense, understand, and react to others’ emotions while comprehending social status, standing and where you are in your social network of people. Actually, teens are quite good at this because social hierarchy often matters the most in High School. The key is tying their heightened social awareness to their self-awareness and then making positive relationship management decisions.
  • Relationship Management: This is the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while successfully avoiding or managing conflict. This is an essential part of emotional intelligence for parents and teens. For teens, in incidents with bullying or issues with parents, they have to be able to effectively handle problems without creating conflict. Parents also have to successfully approach and navigate with surly or overly-dramatic teens using emotional intelligence skills.

When teaching this to students, you want to explain each area of emotional intelligence. Then you can discuss examples of each area to help teens or kids identify when this happens in their own life. Luckily, emotional intelligence is absolutely a skill that can be taught. As you discuss EQ with your family or students, apply it on a day to day basis so they can work on the areas they need most help in. Often times, as soon as they are aware that ‘feelings’ are a part of being ‘intelligent’ they are excited and enticed to learn more about themselves and how they interact with those around them.

This is part of EmoSocial Intelligence series. If you would like to read more articles on how to read and build nonverbal communication skills in your family or with your child, please visit our EmoSocial Intelligence page for tips and updated research.


Mayer, J.D., Salovey, P. & Caruso, D.R. (2008). Emotional Intelligence: New ability or eclectic traits, American Psychologist, 63, 6, 503-517.

Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (1996) Bantam Books.

Kluemper, D.H. (2008) Trait emotional intelligence: The impact of core-self evaluations and social desirability. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(6), 1402-1412.

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5 Responses to “Emotional Intelligence: How to Teach Emotional Literacy Skills to Teens and Kids”

  1. Xander
    December 20, 2010 at 4:55 am #

    Very well done Vanessa! Serving as a manager for many years showed me time and again how low EQ was so detrimental to a person’s productivity and ability to be honest with themselves and others.

    I especially liked the statement, “Children are spending less time with their parents and their peers talking about emotions, or attempting to read and gauge others emotions. Instead, they ‘read’ emotions through text, email, chat or Facebook status updates”. This is exactly right!

    Even adults with strong EQ fall prey to their own emotional interpretation of text, and I believe that this trouble can be compounded by the very skewed belief that text published on the Internet is available for the “whole world” to read; one reason why cyberbullying has such a foothold in today’s youth culture.

    Thanks again. Keep up the good work!

  2. Bryan Aldeghi
    June 14, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Emotional Intelligence in a complex concept that covers a wide range of aspects. For many it is difficult looking inward to discover that inner illumination. One issue is that people often are not authentic with themselves. In order to respond instead of reacting, I think that we need an authentic emotional intelligence that really embodies ourselves. For one piece of that concept, look at this recent article : http://www.integratedpathways.net/TheIntegratedLife/2011/06/14/increasing-emotional-intelligence/

  3. Name
    July 1, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    Emotional Intelligence: How to Teach Emotional Literacy Skills to Teens and Kids


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