SEL Skills Articles

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Tears. Shouting. Pouting. Kicking. Screaming. More tears.  This perfectly describes the temper-tantrums I see in my 5-year old daughter, Madison.

emotional intelligence

Everything changed after I took Madison to see the Disney-Pixar movie, Inside Out.

I know my child isn’t the only who has temper-tantrums.  But, I still wonder, “What is going on with you, child?!”

I would patiently try to get to the root of the problems. I would talk to her.  Ask her questions. Generally, I felt lost in a world of irrationality in these conversions. (I use the term “conversation” liberally.)

Inside Out

Everything changed after we saw the Disney-Pixar movie, Inside Out.  The movie is about the inner workings of 5 core emotions (Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness, & Joy).  These emotions are portrayed as characters inside the brain of Riley, an 11-year old girl.

Inside Out delicately and accurately describes how our core emotions guide us.  We tend to think of anger, disgust, fear, and sadness as “negative” emotions, but in actuality they help us to process situations and guide us through tough times.  In fact, it’s Sadness that guides Riley to recognize the changes she is going through and what she has lost. This sets the stage for her to develop new parts of her identity.  Her sadness emotion helped her self-correct a bad path she was heading down.

Back to Madison…  As we walked out of the theater, she said with amazement, “Wow! My head feels soooo different.”  At first, I chuckled to myself. “That’s cute,” I thought.

Emotional Intelligence

Days later, Madison was on the verge of another temper-tantrum. “Oh boy, here we go…”  But, this time, it was different.  There were some tears and emotions, but she was more calm than usual. She explained that her brother was making her both sad and angry.

She was referencing Inside Out and describing the emotions she was feeling!  She was exhibiting Emotional Intelligence (self-awareness of her emotions).

Simply by naming her feelings, she seemed to have more control over them. She stayed reasonably calm. She could then talk about what was causing those feelings. Soon, she could talk about what to do about them. I noticed this happen a couple of times since. Then, noticed that the meltdowns have virtually stopped.

Madison’s experience is a perfect illustration that “emotional intelligence” doesn’t mean that we don’t experience emotions.  To ignore or suppress our emotions is not healthy.  But, having emotional intelligence allows us to have a high-level perspective of what’s happening; it allows us to analyze why we feel the way we do.

Instead of just exhibiting a reaction (like a temper-tantrum), the key question is “Why am I feeling this?”  As we begin to answer this question, we can begin to strategize positive and appropriate actions we can take to remedy the situation.  Taking action leads to changing feelings (just “willing” ourselves to change our feelings never works).

This will be a very helpful insight when Madison becomes a teenager. Adolescence can be rough.  Bodies are changing. Teens need to “discover” who they are and create their own identity.  Subconsciously, they need to “break away” from their parents.

That’s a lot to handle and stirs up emotions that need processing.  But, what happens when we don’t process those emotions?

Those temper-tantrums morph into things like: “acting-out,” substance abuse (drugs & alcohol), and even suicide. 

In my hometown, we struggle with suicide at rates higher than the national average.  Every time it happens, I eventually hear the stories of struggles with substance abuse, school, and/or relationships.  In every case, I wonder if higher emotional intelligence would have helped that young adult process their feelings and lead to a much better outcome.

So, How Can We Foster/Teach Emotional Intelligence?

For starters, watch the movie Inside Out!  It worked for my 5 year-old daughter, so surely it will work for children (and adults) of all ages.  From there, as parents, teachers, and mentors, we can talk with students and guide them through processing their emotions.

How do you do that?1

  • Identify the emotion (name it).
  • Make sense of what caused the emotion/feeling to happen.
  • Think about how you feel having the emotion.  The goal is to accept how we are feeling.
  • Decide how to cope, use, or deal with the emotion.

Processing emotions isn’t reserved for handling “temper-tantrum” situations.  It’s also helpful to use emotional intelligence strategies to prepare ourselves to get into a learning mode.

Prior to doing homework, it’s helpful for students to process any emotions they’re still hanging onto from the school day.  This could be as simple as talking with your student after school.   Sometimes, parents can’t fill this role, but an aunt/uncle, grandparent, or mentor, can be very powerful in helping students debrief and clear out emotional luggage from the day.  If you can’t be that person for your child (don’t feel bad, most students resist their parents’ help), find someone your child can check-in with daily.

Are you an educator looking to teach your students social-emotional learning skills?  Sign up for our “How Do I Feel?” Curriculum Kit, that includes our complete module on feelings in the blue box on the right of this page.



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