7 Ways to Grow Emotional Intelligence

“Good habits are the key to all success. Bad habits are the unlocked door to failure.” – Og Mandino

Thursday, 7:35 a.m.
Boulder, CO

Bullying is a serious problem. Many of us probably have been bullied at least once in our lives.  Some of us may even have been the bully.

During hockey camp when I was thirteen or fourteen I was bullied, and the memory still lingers. I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t stick up for myself. Worse than that, I felt ashamed that I couldn’t stick up for my younger brother who was with me. I never told my parents, or anyone for that matter, because I was afraid they would think less of me. I was afraid they wouldn’t love me.

That was thirty years ago.

Today, bullying is even more prevalent. Along with teenage violence, depression, and suicide, it is one of the more serious costs of emotional illiteracy.

Fortunately, just as each of us learned how to read, each of us can develop emotional intelligence. In doing so, we can counteract the devastating effects of emotional illiteracy.

Here are 7 different ways to grow emotional intelligence.

1. SOCS – SOCS stands for Situation, Options, Consequences and Solutions. It is a strategy that can be used for practice or in real time. In fact the more you practice it, the easier and more natural it will be to use in real time. The great thing about SOCS is you can use it for situations that you may face as a parent or for situations your teen may face when out in the world alone.

All you need to do is pick a situation and then follow the following steps: a) Situation – describe the situation; b) Options – brainstorm different options you or your teen could use in response to the situation; c) Consequences – consider the consequences of those different options; and d) Solutions – pick a solution and act on it.

Here is a situation: You’ve been called by your teens school. Your teen was caught smoking pot on school grounds.

Now you run it through SOCS.

(Adapted from Daniel Goleman – Emotional Intelligence)

2. Personal Mission Statement – A Personal Mission Statement (PMS) sounds serious, but it doesn’t have to be. It is a great way to clarify what is important to you.  It is also a good way for your teen, especially an older teen, to start thinking about what is important to him or her.  A PMS can be as simple as a sentence. For example…

My relationship with my teen is
more important to me than being right.

Or it could be a series of statements: I will seek first to understand then to be understood; I will keep a sense of humor at all times; I will listen twice as much as speak.

Or you can write a paragraph or two about how you want your home life to be with your family. The important thing is that your PMS expresses your values and reflects your personal style. There is no single, right way to do it. Give it a try. You can even send me yours to review if you like. I’d love to hear from  you.

(Adapted from Stephen Covey – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

3. Disclosure or Own Your Feelings – It is important to know how to express how we feel without making the other person feel like we blame them or that he or she is responsible for how we feel.  This is a three step process: a) describe what happened; b) say how it makes you feel; and c) tell your story. Here is an example: When you talk back to me, I feel disrespected. The story I tell myself is that you don’t love me and that I am bad parent.

This particular strategy is not meant to be a substitute for setting proper limits on how you expect your teen to behave. It is meant to help you and your teen learn how to own and express your feelings.

4. What did I learn? – Everyday we are faced with situations that challenge us. We can either choose to have a fixed mindset about what happens to us and learn nothing, or we can choose to use these challenges as opportunities to grow. A good place to use this strategy is at the dinner table. The simple question, “What did you learn today?” is posed and then each family member takes his or her turn to describe something they learned. The benefit of doing this is that it focuses attention on growing and discovering rather than knowing and having to be right all the time.

Other questions to ask are, “What mistake did you make that taught you something?” and “What did you try hard at today?”

(Adapted from Carol Dweck, Ph.D. – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success)

5. Identify Feelings – strategy three described how to own and express your feelings, but what if you don’t know what you’re feeling. For younger kids and for teens who are less emotionally developed, knowing how or what they feel is a real obstacle. Helping your son or daughter identify his or her feelings will go along way to solving problem behavior. As a parent it can sometimes feel like you’re Sherlock Holmes. The detective work is worth the effort  though.

You can something like, “You seem frustrated that you teacher never calls on you in class.” Or, “Never getting to play in a real game can be so demotivating.”

It doesn’t really matter if your right or not.  Your teen will agree with you, and if you’re wrong she will say something like, “No, that’s not it.” That opens the door to offer another suggestion or your teen will you what she is really feeling. Either way you let your teen know that their are ways to describe how she feels.

That is a step towards self-awareness, one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence.

One thing to remember is that anger is usually the result of another feeling, like rejection, frustration and jealousy to name a few. So saying, “you seem angry.” is mostly just stating the obvious. Try and pinpoint the feeling behind the anger.

6. Disengage or Know When to Walk Away – The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote,

Anyone can become angry–that is easy.
But to be angry with the right person,
to the right degree, at the right time,
for the right purpose, and in the right way–
this is not easy.

Walking away may be the most underrated skill and strategy available to parents. It is not necessary to engage in every argument that your teen tries to bait you into. Most parents though can’t resist an opportunity to tell their “misbehaving” son or daughter what’s “on their mind”. I suspect it’s one of the reasons parents hate to love lecturing.

They’ll say, “I don’t want to lecture you, but…”

Disengaging gives you the upper hand. By walking away, you are essentially giving notice that you will talk about (blank) when you are ready and on your terms. It may only be for five minutes, yet walking away gives you the opportunity to calm down, collect your thoughts and consider the situation. It’s a perfect opportunity to use SOCS (remember from above). Then when you are ready, you can calmly talk to your teen about what’s going on.

Getting drug into a fight you can’t win is not Emotionally Intelligent. Plus, it’s not smart and it’s counterproductive. So the next time your teen is trying to get your goat just…


7. Spend time with your teen – Most families don’t spend enough time together doing activities. Sure you may ride in the car together from one extracurricular activity to another, but that is not what I am talking about. Even having dinner together is different from playing a board game or doing a puzzle. Playing ping pong or doing some yard work together or going on a hike require a different level of engagement than eating dinner together or riding in the car do. As much as I dislike video games, even playing video games–sports are high on the list–is a good way to build rapport with your teen.

You’ll be amazed at the bonds you can build with your teen if you do something together just for the fun it on a regular basis. You’ll also be amazed at their improved level of cooperation and behavior. If every interaction between you and your teen is neutral or negative in terms of emotional content, then there is very little incentive for your teen to cooperate and behave as you wish. But if you do things together just for the fun of it you create positive emotional bonds. Those bonds often lead to positive change.

If you make the first move and step towards your teen, it gives him or her permission to step toward you. So go ahead, instead of watching T.V. together play a game together. You’ll be astounded at the results.


Remember there are no good or bad parents, only good and bad parenting. If you put in the effort to build good parenting skills and habits you will succeed at raising children who are prepared to take on the challenges of life. If you don’t you will unlock the door to failure for yourself and for your kids.  The choice is  yours.  What will you choose?

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