Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a secret superpower. In the book Emotional Intelligence, author and psychologist Daniel Goleman suggests that EQ may be even more important in life than IQ. Goleman and other researchers believe the full spectrum of human intelligence includes the ability to understand, express and regulate one’s own emotions and to have empathy for others. Studies show that people with a high EQ tend to be happier, more successful and more likely to hold leadership positions than their lower-EQ peers. So how can parents nurture emotional intelligence in teens? Here are our top six tips:

1. Focus on feelings.

Emotional intelligence is shut down when teens learn to pretend their own or other peoples’ feelings don’t matter. Instead, they should be able to feel all of their feelings, talk openly about them, and learn how to navigate their emotional highs and lows. Help your teen develop a rich vocabulary to describe emotions. Ask clarifying questions like, “It sounds like after she said that, you felt angry and maybe a little sad… is that right?” And make sure they know that feelings are never right or wrong. Emotions are information, and all of them are valid.

2. Try on someone else’s shoes.

To develop empathy, teens need to be able to imagine how others feel. Sometimes– especially if they’re angry or hurt –that’s really hard to do. Give your teen low-pressure practice by asking them about how others might feel when their own feelings aren’t as intensely involved: “What do you think your friend was feeling in that situation? Can you imagine why they felt that way?” That helps teens get used to multiple perspectives.

3. Keep a journal.

Journaling can help teens clarify their thoughts and feelings, relieve stress and even brainstorm solutions to problems. Help your teen get started with a simple spiral notebook, a journaling app like Journey, or the self-discovery journal True You. Psychologist Alexandra Solomon suggests creating ground rules to protect teens’ privacy; for example, “Let them know that you will not read it unless you are worried about the risk of serious harm to themselves or someone else, (or) that you will never read it without asking them first.”

4. Practice active listening.

Active listening may be the single most powerful way to show your teen how much you care. And when they know what it feels like to be listened to with your full attention, they’re more likely to stay present and listen to others. Active listening is simple but not easy: Try it by putting down your devices, turning off the TV or car radio, focusing all your attention on what your teen is saying, and waiting a few seconds longer than usual to respond.

5. Take responsibility for your feelings.

Conflict is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be hurtful. In fact, conflict can lead to closer relationships by helping us understand each others’ perspectives and solve problems together. Teach teens to take responsibility for their own feelings by using “I” statements (“I feel hurt when…”) and calling out behaviors instead of people (“When I’m yelled at I…” instead of “When you yell at me…”) 

6. Cultivate curiosity.

Being curious about the lives and perspectives of others helps teens develop empathy. Model friendly curiosity when you’re out in the world with your teen, for example, by chatting with cashiers or catching up with neighbors. Make sure your teen has opportunities to meet and form meaningful connections with people who are different from them. Find ways to nurture IRL relationships and help your teen learn conversation skills so they feel confident talking with others.

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