Are you self aware? Can you regulate your feelings without them running away from you and taking over? Are you empathic? Can you communicate with others in a way that is neither domineering nor people pleasing, but effective and humane? You can? Great!
But how about your kids? And how about now, in our radically different lockdown landscape, when all our usual support systems and structures have been yanked and everything feels heightened and amplified yet restrictive and repetitive? Never has emotional intelligence been such a valuable asset, as its usually dominant rival - intellectual intelligence - takes an enforced back seat.
What matters now is the emotional well-being within families, so that we remain harmonious and sane in circumstances for which we have had little preparation or experience. For children, the ability to name what is going on around them and have an appropriate vocabulary to label any feelings this brings up is more helpful than pretending everything is business as usual, when it's clearly not.
. Numerous studies have shown how social-emotional learning aids academic learning, and how lack of emotional intelligence can hinder academic progress. Emotions impact on how we function - whether you're five or 55, it's hard to concentrate when distracted by big feelings of fear, sadness, anger, disgust, or even when you're overflowing with happiness. In lockdown, however, managing feelings around missing classmates/friends/grandparents is far more important than actual school work.
But no matter what the circumstances, it's all about recognising and dealing with feelings, rather than being consumed by them.
For children and young people to be able to self-regulate their emotions, they need their own personalised psychological tool kit. Psychologist Daniel Goleman, whose 1995 best seller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, identifies five main aspects of emotional intelligence - self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and socialisation.
Broadly these mean being aware of own feelings, what sets them off, and how they then affect you; not allowing your feelings to hijack and overwhelm you; being motivated by your inner sense of self, rather than external motivators like status anxiety or peer pressure; being aware of the feelings of others, and how to read those feelings; and effectively navigating situations with others, even if it involves conflict. Whether you're dealing with a tricky colleague at work or you're a small child in a playground who wants to join in a game, such emotional skills are core. And it turns out there is no minimum age to learn.
Educational psychologist Stephanie O'Malley, based in Sligo, founded Desty (Discovering Exceptional Talent and Strength in You), an educational tool for children and their parents/carers/educators which is now used in over 100 schools in Ireland, as well as in the UK, Dubai and New Zealand (see educationdesty.com) "There has been a societal shift," she says. "We now realise that we need to take a more holistic approach to child development." That is, not focusing exclusively on grades and achievements, but on emotional intelligence and resilience.
The most crucial thing, she says, is teaching children how to name their feelings.
Paul Ekman, the American psychologist who pioneered the study of emotion by analysing facial micro-expressions, identified six basics: joy, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and surprise. O'Malley goes beyond these six to more nuanced feelings like disappointed, sorry, confused, hopeful - and translates them for young children by using age-appropriate flash cards which illustrate a wide range of feelings.
"One simple thing we can do is to give children a broad range of feeling words," she says. "I believe we should be teaching kids emotional literacy and emotional vocabulary before we even start teaching them reading literacy. Basically, before pre-school. By giving them the ability to name their feelings, it builds on their resilience, because once they recognise and name a feeling, they can then problem-solve and overcome."
Particularly now. But we'll come back to that. First, what about adults? What if you're not sure about your own levels of emotional literacy? Eva Doherty, a clinical psychologist and chartered member of the Psychological Society of Ireland, teaches emotional intelligence to doctors. She uses the 2015 Pixar film Inside Out as a model.
"People often don't know the difference between a thought and a feeling," she says. One of the most common mistakes we make is thinking that emotions are complicated, when in fact they are the opposite. "Emotions are simple and primitive, and their purpose is to transmit important data," she says. "Babies and animals experience emotions - from an evolutionary perspective, they are there to warn us about threats. Yet people often think that we should be able to make intellectual decisions without involving our emotions at all. Which is impossible."
In order to teach children about emotions and how to manage them, we first have to identify them, how they work, and what they are for. "Every emotion has its own reason or message," says Doherty.
"When it comes to anger, children and adults experience it similarly in that there is no sense of proportion - anger is anger, whether it involves something serious or insignificant," she says, which is why telling an angry adult to 'calm down, dear' is as pointless as telling a small child who is mid-tantrum to stop immediately. They can't. Instead, we need to react to anger with empathy, and finding out what it is they need.
"Small children can't self regulate during a tantrum so we instinctively hug them until it passes," she says. "Older kids can be verbally hugged, via empathy. It's important to let them have their feelings, rather than going straight to solution mode, or trying to jolly them along. Demonstrating empathy is more effective."
Such emotional literacy and resilience is especially useful in times of uncertainty and weirdness, like now. "What's happening at the moment is an opportunity to build resilience in children," says Stephanie O'Malley. "We are all having to make hard choices, deal with restrictions, and do the right thing - and we can guide our children through this, so that later when they reflect back, they will see how they went through a difficult time. And came out the other end, stronger."
Eva Doherty suggests a practice called 'Three Good Things', a simple gratitude exercise from the positive psychology movement started in the US by psychologist Martin Seligman. It can be done on a family WhatsApp group - all you have to do is share three good things, no matter how tiny, about your day. "After two weeks, stop," says Doherty. "Research shows doing this for 14 days improves mood for a year. Doing it for seven days improves mood for six months. It really is dose dependent, and it works."
So. The longer-term benefits of teaching children what their feelings are and what they are called, so that the feelings can be identified, felt and processed, are multiple. It will help them avoid falling into potholes of unresolved conflict, resentment, poor negotiation, and the inability to express their needs.
If that sounds like a lot for a four-year-old, remember that by the time that four-year-old is 14, they will have a considerable emotional vocabulary and set of skills with which to navigate their world. Ultimately, this will make your life easier too, because there will be clearer communication all round.
⬤ Explain clearly to your kids, no matter how young they are, exactly what's happening and why. Don't gloss over, or use vague language. Use cuddly toys to illustrate ideas like social distancing. Give them the knowledge and vocabulary so that they can label the situation and their feelings.
⬤ If you are anxious yourself - and aren't we all - try to process this as best you can because it transmits to kids like radio signals. As with every other aspect of life, your kids will take their lead from you. If you are freaking out, they are freaking out. It's important that you manage your own feelings before you try to manage theirs.
⬤ Create structure and predictability, rather than a jam-packed schedule, which could be a source of stress for everyone. Make a chart, so that they can see their day planned out. Keep it simple. If your kids are too young to read a chart, use drawings. The important thing is that they can see how their day is going to pan out, which creates boundaries and a sense of security. End the day with 'Three Good Things', or if the kids are older, maybe introduce age appropriate meditation. There are lots of online options.