By Erica Rood, M.A. Ed.

Without the stress and pressure from school, summer is an ideal time for teens to build their Emotional Intelligence, or EQ. EQ includes the ability to recognize and understand emotions, and use that understanding to guide thinking and actions. Teens with a high EQ typically have a better understanding of themselves and others. They have more control over their emotions, which can lessen the intensity of negative reactions and help them manage stress.  With a better understanding of themselves, they form healthy friendships and are better decision makers.

So, this summer, while your teen is not working on her IQ, here are seven ways she can boost her EQ. Plus, how you can help.

  1. Identify emotions and reactions. Certain situations trigger certain emotions. People with a high EQ understand their triggers and therefore can manage their reactions. Parents can help teens understand their triggers by pointing out what sets off a reaction. Start by saying simply, “I notice you get really down when you spend hours on Instagram” or, “It seems like this new friend is saying a lot of things that upset you.” Remember, when you point out emotional reactions, always do it without judgment. Come from a place of curiosity and neutrality.
  2. Offer perspective. Teens are forming their identity and you can help them broaden their understanding of themselves by highlighting where their inner-qualities shine. For example, “You have been really responsible with your chores lately. I appreciate that you kept your room tidy all week.” Or, “I know that test was a stressing you out. You have an amazing ability to stay calm and focused under stress.”
  3. Pause and respond. We are all in a hurry. Rushing from one activity or appointment to the next. Even in our conversations, we rarely take our time.   In my coaching practice, I often talk with girls about the difference between reacting and responding. Reactions are instant, usually done without much thought or foresight. Responses, on the other hand are more thoughtful and productive. They require pause. You can model and encourage responding by saying to your teen, “I’m not really sure how to respond to that. I need some time to consider what you’re saying.”
  4. Explore What, not Why. It’s common for parents and teens to explore their actions and consequences by asking why questions. While why questions may help uncover motivation, more often, they lead to self-doubt, criticism, and confusion. Why did I do that? Why am I feeling this way? Why did she say that to me? These questions are often unanswerable or have a multitude of abstract answers.   Help your daughter shift from why questions to what questions through modeling. For example, you can ask, What are you feeling? What are you telling yourself right now about that situation? What can you do to get a different result? What is important to you about ____(fill in the blank.)
  5. Ask the most important question… What can I learn? Criticisms or failings can be valuable opportunities to learn and grow. When on the receiving end of either, it can be easy to react with anger or simply shutdown. Instead, ask yourself or your teen, how can you use this setback to help yourself? What is this showing you about yourself? Your friends? Your life?
  6. Journal.  Writing is a powerful way to build personal consciousness. Journals are safe outlets where teens can process their experiences while deepening their understanding of their choices. As self-awareness builds, so does a capacity to empathize with others. For teens that have a hard time knowing what to write, I offer these prompts:

Something I did well today…

I felt proud when…

Today I accomplished…

I had a positive experience with…

Something I did for someone…

I felt good about myself when…

I was proud of someone else…

Today was interesting because…

  1. Practice mindfulness. EI and mindfulness go hand in hand. Mindfulness involves a shift in how we pay attention. When teens learn to become mindful, they can more easily practice the Pause and Respond and take time to reflect on their feelings, perspective, and experiences. There are many mindfulness books and apps that make starting a mindfulness practice simple and fun. A few I like include: Ten Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn, Daily Calm (app) and Stop, Breath, and Think (app.)

Emotional Intelligence includes a wide range of skills that can be learned at any age and are critical for happiness and success in life. EQ is an essential part of preparing at teen for adulthood. It is a key component for self-regulation and understanding how to handle stressful situations responsibly and with ease.   While it’s true that parents can do little about the temperament or personality of their teens, there is much they can do to shape it, starting with building their son or daughter’s EQ.