Cultivating a Little Emotional Intelligence in Children
by H. Wallace Goddard

As emotional intelligence became a national craze, authors rose to the challenge. Bundles of books rolled off the presses promising to help us develop children who could leap tall emotions in a single bound. Many of the books are inane; some are benign; a few are excellent.

Catherine and Laurence Anholt have written an excellent one. “What makes me happy?” is a children’s book that gives good examples of events that activate common emotions. While the text does not explicitly invite the readers to add their own examples, the opportunity is obvious.

For example, in response to the question “What makes me cry?” the text, with charming illustrations, offers: wasps that sting, a fall from a swing, wobbly wheels, head over heels.” After enjoying the drama and rhyme, a parent might ask, “What makes you cry?” A child may recount a recent crisis or a remembered disappointment. One of the best ways to cultivate emotional intelligence in children is by allowing (and sensitively prompting) their exploration of their emotions.

A parent might also volunteer pain of her own if it does not strain the child’s interest (or involve a situation that is threatening to the child). It can be useful for children to know that adults have pains and struggles.

The book asks what makes the child laugh, cry, bored, proud, jealous, scared, sad, excited, shy, mad, and happy. Those questions do not map perfectly onto the six universal emotions: happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger, and disgust. Still, the book covers
those emotions that are familiar to most children. It provides an opportunity to talk about feelings and how we experience and manage them.

Incidentally, there are many nonsense parenting books on emotional intelligence. One that stands above the crowd is “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” by John Gottman. It describes the three unhelpful ways that parents commonly react to children’s emotions: dismissing, disapproving or laissez-faire. In contrast is emotion-coaching as taught by Haim Ginott. Gottman’s excellent book is not a light read but an informative and helpful one.

As children develop emotional intelligence, they can be more effective at managing the pain and finding the joy.

Catherine and Laurence Anholt (1994). What makes me happy? Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

John Gottman (1997). Raising an emotionally intelligent child. New York: Simon & Schuster.