You've probably heard or read about the term "emotional intelligence". To find out how it applies to those who work with young children, we asked Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of the book Working With Emotional Intelligence, to share his insights on the work that has been done in this field.

EARLY CHILDHOOD TODAY: What exactly is emotional intelligence?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Howard Gardner was one of the first researchers to view intelligence broadly. In recent years, a growing group of psychologists has come to agree with his theory of multiple intelligences. Yale psychologist Peter Salovey expands Gardner's category of personal intelligence into five main domains that make up emotional intelligence:

1) Knowing one's emotions: self-awareness recognizing a feeling as it happens;

2) Managing emotions: handling feelings appropriately;

3) Motivating oneself: emotional self-control delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness;

4) Recognizing emotions in others: empathy - the fundamental "people skill;" and

5) Handling relationships: a skill in managing emotions in others. These abilities combine to foster self-esteem and leadership and interpersonal effectiveness.

ECT: Why is it important for teachers and parents of young children to understand emotional intelligence?

GOLEMAN: Emotional intelligence begins to develop in the earliest years. All the small exchanges children have with their parents, teachers, and with each other carry emotional messages. These messages repeat over and over to form the core of a child's emotional outlook and capabilities. A little girl who finds a puzzle frustrating might ask her busy mother (or teacher) for help. The child gets one message if her mother expresses clear pleasure at the request and quite another if mommy responds with a curt "Don't bother me - I've got important work to do." Such encounters mold children's emotional expectations about relationships, outlooks that will influence their functioning in all realms of life, for better or worse.

During the first three or four years of life, the brain grows to about two thirds its full size and evolves in complexity at a greater rate than it ever will again. During this period, key kinds of learning take place more readily than later in life - emotional learning foremost among them.

ECT: What can teachers do to help develop emotional intelligence?

GOLEMAN: Teachers need to be comfortable talking about feelings. This is part of teaching emotional literacy — a set of skills we can all develop, including the ability to read, understand, and respond appropriately to one's own emotions and the emotions of others.

Emotional "literacy" implies an expanded responsibility for schools in helping to socialize children. This daunting task requires two major changes: that teachers go beyond their traditional mission and that people in the community become more involved with schools as both active participants in children's learning and as individual mentors.

There is no area where the ability of the teacher matters so much, since how a teacher handles his or her class is in itself a model, a de facto lesson in emotional competence - or lack thereof. Whenever a teacher responds to one student, 20 or 30 others learn a lesson, and these lessons can be useful (for example, learning in the earliest school years to control impulses or recognize feelings). You can teach about the most basic emotions, such as happiness and anger, to the youngest children and later touch on more complicated feelings, such as jealousy, pride, and guilt. The basic premise that children must learn about emotions is that all feelings are okay to have; however, only some reactions are okay.

Key Ingredients of Emotional Intelligence

In his book, Dr. Goleman explains that whether or not children arrive at school with the ability to learn depends greatly on how much the important adults in their lives have given them these seven key ingredients (adapted from Heart Start: The Emotional Foundations of School Readiness by the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs).

Confidence. A sense of control and mastery of one's body, behavior, and world; the child's sense that he is more likely than not to succeed at what he undertakes and that adults will be helpful.

Curiosity. The sense that finding out about things is positive and leads to pleasure.

Intentionality. The wish and capacity to have an impact and to act upon that with persistence. This is related to a sense of competence, of being effective.

Self-control. The ability to modulate and control one's own actions in age-appropriate ways; a sense of inner control.

Relatedness. The ability to engage with others based on the sense of being understood by and understanding others. 

Capacity to communicate. The wish and ability to verbally exchange ideas, feelings, and concepts with others. This is related to a sense of trust in others and pleasure in engaging with others, including adults.

Cooperativeness. The ability to balance one's own needs with those of others in group activity.  

Daniel Goleman, Ph.D. has written several books including Emotional Intelligence; Vital Lies, Simple Truths; The Meditative Mind; and, as coauthor, The Creative Spirit.