Emotional Intelligence For Dummies

It’s often said that we teach what we need to learn.

Professionally, I facilitate emotional intelligence sessions in the workplace, non-profit sector and in community groups.  Opportunities for me to learn about my own emotional intelligence have been presenting themselves quite frequently lately.  I don’t know about you, but when I find myself in those kind of experiential learning opportunities it’s usually because I’m not doing something as well as I think I should be.  Or sometimes, someone else isn’t doing something as well as I think they should be.

You know, those FGO’s?  ….uhm….Fabulous Growth Opportunities?  Yep, a lot of those FGO’s showing up lately.  For me and for my teenage son.  Because of course I’m trying to raise my son’s EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) as part of my parenting journey.

Lately I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on empathy, which is a key component of emotional intelligence.

My 15 yr. old son has strep throat this week.  I can assure you that NO ONE ON THE PLANET has experienced the level of pain that he was experiencing yesterday.  Well, except perhaps me, because I was right there sharing his pain.

But seriously, I was really empathetic to his genuine suffering.

For the first day.

By day two, after the visit to the doctor, but before the antibiotics started to do their job and fix the problem things started getting kind of ugly.  Apparently I wasn’t being ‘nice’ enough anymore.

When a 15 yr. old is sick with an extreme pain inducing illness is hardly the time to expect THEM to be empathetic, but I found myself questioning just how ‘nice’ I was to be in the face of the escalating demands and accusations that I’d obviously bought the wrong antibiotic, the liquid would have worked much faster than these stupid pills, that it was unfair that I wouldn’t go RIGHT NOW to buy him udon noodles from the local Japanese restaurant….well, you get the picture.  That was all just before he collapsed to the ground from lack of food.

And I started to find myself feeling less and less empathetic to his suffering and he became increasingly unaware of the remarkable sacrifices I’d made on his behalf.  I mean hadn’t I got up through the night to talk him down from his feverish hallucinations, skipped my yoga class to take him to the doctor, and missed a meeting with a colleague that I had eagerly anticipated to nurse him back to health?  Hadn’t I given up my abdominal ‘six-pack’ to even give him life?!

But that’s what moms do, so we don’t get many points or much empathy from our kids for what we give up to mother our kids.

Neveretheless, teaching my teen about emotional intelligence, empathy and when to be aware of the importance of being empathetic are all part of this parenting journey.

I recently spoke with Alyson Jones about empathy and kids and this is what she had to say….

L:  What age does empathy begin to show up in children?

A:  The capacity for empathy begins when a child develops awareness of their own emotions.  This can start at a young age, about age four.

L:  How can parents nurture empathy in their children?

A:  It’s important for parents to understand that the concept of empathy is not external to the child, it begins internally.  You can’t really teach empathy, it really is about raising your child’s awareness of their own feelings and connecting it to what another child might feel.

So, an example might be, if my brother hurts me, that makes me hurt inside they might be more aware of what happens to another through their actions.

L.  How does a healthy sense of empathy help us in our lives?

A.  It can help with our relationships with other people, it helps us connect with others, it helps us share and have compassion with each other.  We can share our problems.  It helps with individuals and with groups.  And then this can extend into our community and even globally.  At it’s worst, empathy can create pain and anxiety.  This is the other piece of it.  How can we develop empathy and connect with others, but how do we also know how to take care of ourselves?  Unfortunately anxiety is the number one mental health issue with children these days.

L.  That raises the issue of the barrage of information that is coming at our kids.  They can be ‘hit’ with pieces of information that can be quite jarring.   Even  gaming and horror movies can be so graphic, are we de-sensitizing our children?

A.   Absolutely, it can.  That desensitization can couple in at least a couple of ways:  the way you’re mentioning, but also just as awareness increases about the pain and suffering in the world.  As parents we have to help our children process some of the information that’s coming at them, talking with them, helping them understand.  It’s also important to help them understand the collective power of compassion too.   In the end what really can help is for each individual to understand that they can make a difference, they can be of assistance, can even in some small way touch the lives of someone else.

It’s when we feel hopeless and helpless that we want to de-sensitize or not care.  The route back to ‘healthy’ empathy is knowing how and where we can make a difference.  It always comes back to yourself.  We have to have a strong sense of self, and of purpose to develop a strong sense of empathy.

One of the things we did in our own family was instilling the action of ‘making it right’ if they had done something to hurt another.


Fortunately it didn’t take long for the antibiotics to kick in.  Throat pain eased, some food consumed, sense of humour regained, my son had the good graces to sheepishly admit that his high drama was just a wee bit over the top.  And was empathetic enough to ask if there was anything he could do for me.

Now that’s an intelligent boy.