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6 Signs of Low Emotional Intelligence in Children


Childhood is messy.


Literally and, well, figuratively too. It’s a time of intense learning. Your little one is making brain connections faster and more frequently than you are. They’re learning how to navigate the big world around them and how to respond in changing circumstances. Is it okay for me to scream and yell? What should I do when I fail my spelling test? How should I respond when my friends don’t let me play with them? What happens when I eat only cookies for dinner or don’t turn in my homework?


In order to learn, your child has to make a billion mistakes.


Consider parenting a child who is learning to play the piano. In the beginning, the constant jumble of wrong notes or the major key accidentally played in minor can be agonizing to listen to. Yet you probably feel proud as can be as you watch your child stretch their fingers to find the right key. You know that this is the path to proficiency—lots and lots of mistakes.


Likewise, when it comes to developing emotional intelligence, your child will make a billion mistakes. That’s part of learning! You’ve probably lived through one, if not all, of the examples of low EQ moments we discuss below. And that’s great—it means your child has opportunities to learn and grow.


Be patient with your kids and hold them to a high standard.


If these behaviors become patterns, you’ll want to get creative and find ways to teach your child better, emotionally-intelligent ways to function. Remember to consider your child’s age. The younger your child, the harder it is (developmentally speaking) to exhibit high EQ behaviors. The older they get, the more capable they become of acting like emotionally-intelligent beings.


Use the following signs and examples as a yardstick: know that when one of these signs shows up, it is a sign of low EQ and an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.


Above all else, remember that EQ is not fixed. It’s a learnable skill that takes—you guessed it—practice.


Signs of Low Emotional Intelligence


1. Doesn’t Recognize Or Validate Emotions


What this might look like: suppressing emotions, avoiding emotions, discomfort in conversations about emotions, dramatizing emotions


Example: You hear from your child’s teacher that he’s been bullied at school. When you pick him up, you hope he’ll bring it up and explain what’s been going on. Your child doesn’t say anything, and when you ask him about it, he shrugs and says, “It’s fine. I don’t care.”


2. Doesn’t Manage Emotions


What this might look like: frequent outbursts and meltdowns, aggressive behaviors, yelling, crying for a long time without stopping, blaming others


Example: Every time you go into the grocery store, your child asks for a toy. You always say no, and she always responds with a meltdown. She screams and kicks and calls you names.


3. Doesn’t Read Others Emotions


What this might look like: insensitivity, doesn’t recognize when someone is feeling hurt or sad, doesn’t read body language or voice intonation well, doesn’t pick up on social cues


Example: You’re at a busy restaurant with your family when your child starts acting up. He throws his food on the floor, gets out of his seat, and starts running around the wait staff and other tables.


4. Failure To Empathize With Others


What this might look like: self-centered conversations and activities (not asking questions), not listening intently to others, discomfort when others express emotions, unable or unwilling to imagine another’s perspective (put themselves in someone else’s shoes)


Example: Your younger son is crying because he feels sick. “Stop crying!” shouts your older son. He gets aggressive and pushes his little brother.


5. Lacks Confidence


What this might look like: hesitancy to try new things, fear of making mistakes and failing, lack of creativity, frequent expressions of embarrassment or shame


Example: Your child was given an art assignment at school to paint a landscape. She doesn’t do it and has nothing to turn in on the due date. When you ask her why she chose not to participate, she says, “I’m bad at art. It would have looked bad anyway.”


6. Plays The Victim


What this might look like: seeking someone to bail them out, trying to avoid consequences, being dishonest, feeling sorry for themselves, lacking the ability or desire to problem solve, failing to take responsibility


Example: Your child fails his math tests, over and over again. He cries about his poor scores every week. He’s certain that the teacher singles him out and gives him a bad grade on purpose.


Remember: we all have our fair share of low EQ moments. Recognizing and managing our emotions is difficult, even for adults!


Every day, your children face opportunities to either strengthen or compromise their emotional intelligence—and you have just as many opportunities to guide them.


Learn to recognize moments of low EQ and show your children a better way. And most of all, be patient with the process.


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