How to increase emotional intelligence in girls

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Many people think that because girls tend to focus on their relationships with friends and others, that they have more emotional intelligence. Not so, says author Rachel Simmons, who wrote Odd Girl Out. Girls need parents' help to learn how to handle feelings they might think are inappropriate for 'good girls.'

How to increase emotional intelligence in girls Girls' emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to know how you're feeling, to say how you're feeling and to accept how you're feeling. Because girls have more relationships than boys, we often think that they are experts at understanding and managing their emotions. Paradoxically, this is not the case — girls may have more difficulty managing their emotions and, in fact, often have low emotional intelligence. Rachel Simmons has outlined the help parents can give in developing the emotional intelligence in girls.
  • Historically, girls have been raised to be good, nice, and problem-free. They are socialized to take care of others.
  • If girls are always putting other's needs ahead of theirs, and don't allow themselves to get angry, they won't develop the emotional “muscle” necessary to deal with situations where they genuinely should feel betrayed, jealous or disappointed.
  • When girls encounter feelings that are not good or caring of others, but are real and true, they may have difficulty fully experiencing and accepting them, and may have even more difficulty expressing them because they are so uncomfortable.
  • If girls believe that they have no right to experience negative emotions, or permission to express them, they may deny the strength and importance of their feelings. “I'm just being a drama queen. I'm making too big a deal out of it.” They may build up until they explode into inappropriate behavior and, in some cases, physical ailments.
  • Teaching our daughters how to increase emotional intelligence helps them succeed in managing both their personal and professional relationships. The family is the primary school for emotional learning. Help them build the vocabulary to talk about emotions. Facilitate that by honestly and openly talking about your feelings and emotions.
  • Be sensitive to words and phrases that your daughter will use to avoid talking about how they are feeling. “I'm fine ...,” “I'm just tired. ...”. Keep in mind that your daughter may be reluctant to show her real emotions for fear that she will look weak, vulnerable, like a loser, and won't be accepted. (In this way, girls are similar to boys!)
  • Avoidance words are frequently used to cover feelings of hurt, sadness, anger or frustration. Ask your child to get below the avoidance words and express the real feelings, and then praise her for showing/talking about them.
  • Showing your own feelings is positive in teaching your daughter how to express hers. It demonstrates that you are capable of owning (accepting) the emotions, and as a deep feeling human being, that you are capable of releasing them in a healthy fashion. Expressing emotions builds and promotes empathy. (Note that you should be conscious of when you show emotions. If your child comes to you for help, try to be strong for them at that moment.)
  • Day-to-day conflicts provide a good opportunity to work on helping your child develop emotional intelligence. However, be sensitive to expressing your emotions directly, in “I” language, rather than “you” language. (“You” language is usually perceived as being aggressive. “I” statements are usually perceived as being appropriately emotional).
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LISA: The term emotional intelligence has been used a lot, but do you know what it is? I’m Lisa Birnbach for howdini.com and our guest is Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out. What is emotional intelligence, Rachel?

RACHEL: It means a lot of different things these days, but for girls I think it means being able to know how your feeling, to be able to say how you’re feeling, and to be able to accept it. And those are very difficult things. We often think that girls are experts at their emotions because they have so many emotions and because they have so many relationships. But just because you have lots of emotions, doesn’t mean you’re good at managing them. And that’s one of the things we never heard about girls; we talk about emotional intelligence for all kinds of people in the world, but in fact girls have very low emotional intelligence. They’re raised to be good girls; they’re raised to be nice and that often means that they don’t have the muscle to express negative emotions, because they’re trying to be good, they’re trying not to have problems. They –

LISA: Girls are trying not to make waves and trying to be liked, is that sort of the overwhelming need that we have when we’re younger?

RACHEL: It is. Well, we’re socialized to take care of other people. Good girls are nice, are friendly, they don’t create problems with other people, they don’t get angry. Well, if you don’t get angry and if you’re taking care of people all the time, and if your putting other people’s needs before you, then when you feel disappointed, you feel betrayed, when you feel jealous – all of those emotions that are not care-giving emotions, but that are real and true and impossible to avoid, you might not be very good at expressing them. You might only not be good at expressing them, but when you feel them, you might sit around and say, I’m being a drama queen, oh I’m making too big a deal out of this; you might sit there and say, I have no right to feel these feelings. And when you don’t feel permission to feel your feelings and when you don’t know how to express yourself, many things can happen. You can hold your feelings in until you explode and behave inappropriately; you can suffer all kinds of physical ailments. You can basically be someone who’s not able to manage her relationships appropriately whether it’s at work or at home. The same is true for girls. When girls can’t accept the fact that they feel unhappy, they are not going to be able to say to another girl, ‘I don’t like the way you’re treating me; this is how I’m feeling about what you’re doing to me.’ So it’s by building girls’ emotional intelligence, I think, that we give them the strength to be powerful in their relationships.

LISA: Who is going to teach our daughters that? Are we?

RACHEL: You can. In fact the expert, the emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goldman says that the family is the primary school for emotional learning, which I think is a wonderful way to put it. In other words, it’s parents who teach their children how to express their feelings, how to know what their feelings are. How do you do that? It can be as simple as trying to build an emotional vocabulary in your child, and you do that by talking about your own feelings, by asking your child to talk about her feelings.

LISA: Mmhmm.

RACHEL: Now, remember when you do this, this always happens to me: I’ll say to a girl, how are you feeling? Fine. Okay, no really, how are you feeling? Tired. Watch out for those words, ‘cause those are ways that girls will avoid trying to say what they’re feeling. Another thing that can be really helpful is, when your child is upset and she’s angry, try to get her to go beneath her anger and frustration because as we all know, anger often covers over feelings of hurt or feelings of distress. So see if you can ask her what’s behind that anger, and then encourage her, praise her for showing those emotions.

LISA: How about the way we show emotions? Obviously our kids are modeling themselves after us. Is it, I remember the first time I cried in front of my children, and I thought oh, this is terrible, and then I thought, well it’s real, it’s honest.

RACHEL: Oh, I think it’s just fine to do that. I mean, I think it’s important to, again, I, I don’t, I think it’s important to be conscious of when you’re showing emotion. If your child is coming to you for help, I think it’s important to try to be strong as possible, but obviously when you are unhappy, you are showing that you are a human being; you are showing that you are able to healthily release your feelings and that you are a deep feeling human being which I think is such an important part of being a functional person, of being a successful person, because it also promotes empathy.

LISA: So, so it would be a good idea to express your feelings as a parent to your children and to also own your feelings.

RACHEL: For sure.

LISA: I mean that’s what, what you talk about in your book.

RACHEL: Yeah. Like, for example, I work with parents and daughters all the time, and we work on the conflicts that they have. So typical conflict is get off the computer. So the parent will come into the room and say, ‘I told you to get off the computer; it’s time to get off the computer, why don’t you ever listen to me?’ And of course the kid is rolling her eyes and going, ‘leave me alone, I totally was off the computer’ but of course she just minimized it, et cetera et cetera. How many millions of times a year this happens in American households, it’s hard to say. Now, how do you redo that conversation with emotional intelligence? Well when I work with parents, we get the parent to talk about the emotions that she or he has. So the mom would say, ‘you know what, I feel really disappointed that you’re still on the computer, because I’ve asked you so many times.’ Now that’s much more powerful than, ‘you never listen to me.’

LISA: Disappointed is a very strong term for a parent to wield, don’t you think?

RACHEL: It is; or it could be something like, ‘I feel really anxious because it’s late, and you haven’t done your homework yet, and I want you to be successful at school.’ Now it is a loaded term, but it’s a different way of talking to your child that includes how you feel in asking her to do something.

LISA: Thank you Rachel Simmons. For howdini.com, I’m Lisa Birnbach.

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meet theexpert
  • Rachel Simmons

    Rachel Simmons Author, Odd Girl Out Rachel Simmons is a best selling author and Founding Director of the Girls Leadership Institute. more about this expert »

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