The Need For Emotional Intelligence in Our Youth
The Need For Emotional Intelligence in Our Youth

The Need For Emotional Intelligence in Our Youth

The youth we serve have usually been through trials and tribulations that belie their tender age. Our clients who are children or teenagers come to us because they’ve been through foster care, broken homes, learning and emotional difficulties, and other challenging struggles. Our role as social workers is to help these youth navigate through difficulties and develop the resilience to transition into adult life.

The obstacles young clients face often cause them to face emotional struggle. One of the top skills we can teach our young clients is Emotional Intelligence, or EI. First identified by psychologist Daniel Goleman, our EI is our ability to identify, understand, and process feelings and other emotional information.

Goleman states that EI includes these five components:
1. Self-awareness - The ability to understand and label our own feelings as they come up.
2. Self-regulation - Knowing how to maturely process and react to our feelings.
3. Motivation - Being self-motivated; being able to identify our personal values and goals.
4. Empathy - The ability to step into another person’s shoes through understanding their feelings.
5. Social skills - Being able to effectively communicate and build social bridges.

Our EI skill level is based on more than one factor. Some people inherently have more emotional intelligence, while others purposefully learn and develop their EI. Due to what they’ve faced, youth working with social workers often haven’t had the opportunities to learn and model emotional intelligence at home.

It’s important for social workers to model and teach EI when working with young clients. Strong emotional intelligence not only makes it easier for young people to effectively navigate difficult situations as children, it gives them the resiliency to thrive in relationships and the workplace when they get older.

Try these three techniques to build EI with younger clients:

1. Model EI during sessions.
One of the best ways you can start bringing Emotional Intelligence to children and teenagers is to show your own masters of it when working with the child. During sessions, show the usual care and empathy you have for the youth, but go ahead and make it explicit. Explain that while you have not personally been in that youth’s situation, you are able to emphathize with them by stepping into their shoes. Ask the child how it feels to have another person understand their feelings.

You can also take the opportunity to appropriately label and discuss your own feelings with young clients. Explain to them not just when you feel happy but also times you experience disappointment. Model how to regulate difficult feelings with the child in session, and demonstrate how your emotional self-awareness helps you solve problems.

2. Teach children to recognize and label their own emotions.
After developing trust with younger clients, you can work with them to learn and label their own emotions. When clients describe a situation that drew emotion from them, either positive or negative, ask them how they felt during and after the incident. If the client is too young to verbally describe emotions or enjoys art, you can have them draw how they felt instead. Youth who enjoy writing might also write about their feelings in a journal and share them with you. With practice and time, children will eventually learn to identify their own emotions.

3. Practice basic mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a practice that allows us to self-regulate emotions by being aware and open in the present moment. Children can learn the basics of mindfulness as a form of self-regulation. For example, you can have a youth client take a deep breath if they are feeling frustrated. Teaching youth clients to breathe brings them back into internal self-awareness and regulates their feelings. You can also try taking a mindful walk with clients on a nice day, where you can teach clients to stay quiet, relaxed, and aware while moving through nature.



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