Do Emotionally Intelligent Parents Have More Emotionally Intelligent Kids?

Photo by Kristen Curette Hines

As a parent, it’s commonplace for us to hear a lot of “Oh, she has your eyes!” or “Bet he got that from his mom.” But what about emotional intelligence? Yep, you guessed it—like all things parental, you likely have something to do with that, too.

We don’t normally think about a person’s ability to perceive their own emotions as an inheritable trait, but a new study published in the Journal of Adolescence found that a parent’s emotional intelligence actually does tend to predict their child’s emotional intelligence, suggesting that the trait may be passed through generations. Researchers examined 152 cohabiting families with kids between 16 and 17 years old, and found that a parental display of emotional intelligence (sometimes called their “EQ,” or emotional quotient) did seem to affect their offspring’s ability to make sense of their own emotions.

That means something for both parents and the not-yet-parents crowd: If you're hoping to raise kids with good emotional skills, you may want to focus on your own development first.

Of course, if you’re a parent who hasn’t paid too much focus on your EQ up until now, don’t sweat! Past research suggests that emotional intelligence is a combination of genes and environment, meaning there are always steps parents can take to help their child shape their emotional abilities.

“The root of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, sometimes called mindfulness, which takes us deep beneath the surface of our identities as ‘doers’ and the roles we play,” Linda Carroll, M.S., wrote on mindbodygreen. “You can build on your skills. As human beings, each of us has the innate ability to become savvy in our EQ.”

This is where what has been deemed “mindful parenting” comes into play. It’s an approach that encompasses not only being conscious of your child’s emotions and showing them compassion, but being aware of and in control of your own emotions and behavior while parenting. That means speaking kindly to yourself and forgiving your errors will not only benefit your emotional intelligence, but they are behaviors your child will witness and learn from in the long run as well.

You can also consider coaching your kids through a few exercises that can help foster greater self-awareness. For example, certified kid’s yoga instructor Erica Golub recommends a game where everyone in the family has a chance to express various emotions. Say "I feel happy when..." and discuss a scenario. Once everyone takes a turn, move on to other emotions (e.g. "I feel sad when...," or "I feel cranky when…”). Other small games like mirror faces—when a child looks at their reflection, and you call out “happy monkey” or “angry tiger” for them to imitate—can also help your little ones get in touch with their EQ.

Because “Oh, he’s so emotionally aware—just like his parents” is a comparison you can live with, right?

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