Why I don’t pressure my kids to get good grades

I had something my 8th-grade teacher never saw in me when he publicly denigrated me: emotional intelligence. And that is what I intend to arm my children with.

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“You’re completely incompetent!” That’s what my eighth-grade history teacher said to me in front of 23 of my peers when I failed to correctly play my role as a patriot in the first meeting of the New York Provincial Congress. As I cried myself to sleep that night, I wondered, was he right? Was I completely incompetent? The fact of the matter is, I was a mediocre student—at best. Yet somehow I managed to grow up to be pretty successful, both professionally and personally, despite the fact that I never did retain anything about the revolutionary governmental structure of the 18th century.

A new way of accounting for success

Research shows that people with the highest levels of intelligence outperform those with average IQ only 20 percent of the time, while those with average IQs outperform those with high IQ 70 percent of the time, according to Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves in Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Counterintuitive as this may seem, subsequent research points to emotional intelligence, also known as the emotional quotient (EQ), as the missing link to explain this finding. In fact, decades of research now shows EQ to be the number-one predictor of personal achievement, happiness and professional success in all walks of life.

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I am a living testament to those findings. Despite my lack of book smarts in my youth, I have landed every job I’ve ever interviewed for—because of the relatable way I present myself—but also moved rather quickly up the corporate hierarchy, receiving numerous accolades along the way. Why? Because I work well with others, I know how to problem solve and I view feedback as a mechanism for growth. I have healthy personal relationships, a strong Christian faith, and an overall positive outlook on life. I credit this to my parents: they created an environment that fostered emotional awareness, communication and empathy.

Success comes in a more intangible form: treating others respectfully, showing empathy, bouncing back from disappointment, making smart choices, communicating well and being accountable.

Emotional intelligence, a term made popular in the 1990s by Daniel Goleman, author, psychologist and science journalist, essentially boils down to this: the ability to understand the connection between emotions, behavior, and its impact on others, and knowing how to manage and use those emotions to navigate social complexities and make healthy decisions. “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far,” says Goleman.

Emotionally intelligent people are better at managing their emotions, less likely to engage in risky behaviors, more likely to have positive social behaviors and are generally more agreeable and open, according to John D. Meyer, co-developer of the idea behind emotional intelligence. These attributes, as it turns out, have been shown to hold more weight when it comes to achieving success than IQ. According to Goleman, researchers in one 30-year longitudinal study of more than 1,000 kids found that children who had the best cognitive control, as opposed to IQ or wealth of the family in which they grew up, had the greatest financial success in their 30s. And Accenture’s High Performance Workforce Study 2006 of 251 executives in six countries revealed similar findings: interpersonal competence, self-awareness and social awareness were all directly correlated with professional success.

The ‘positive ripple effect’ in this parenting strategy

Because I place such a strong emphasis on EQ, I find that my definition for success for my children differs from what might be considered the norm. I don’t view my children’s report cards as a measure of success. For me, success comes in a more intangible form: treating others respectfully, showing empathy, bouncing back from disappointment, making smart choices, communicating well and being accountable. That is where I look for my kids to shine.

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Don’t get me wrong: I have certain expectations when it comes to academics. I expect them to work hard and meet deadlines, and I praise As and pause at Cs. But rather than punish for a poor grade, I encourage them to find out what went wrong so they can move forward based on lessons learned. I place my emphasis less on the grade itself and more on how they handle the setback.

That strategy tends to have a positive ripple effect: their resilience and ability to understand the behavior behind each setback sets them up for greater success—academically, socially and personally. This applies to all areas of their lives, be it school, sports or interactions with friends and family.

The pillars of EQ

I work with my kids on a daily basis to develop strong emotional skills—from helping them practice empathetic listening and self-regulating when uncomfortable feelings arise, to showing gratitude and communicating with respect. These pillars can set a child up for success, but not success defined by money or status. Emotional intelligence creates a well-rounded wholeness; it creates a child who has a greater capacity for compassion, forgiveness, selflessness and love. As I strive to raise my children to live a spirit-guided life of purpose, kindness and self-confidence, these attributes have powerful meaning in my home.

If we all incorporated more emotional awareness into our lives, imagine the larger-scale impact it would have: less hatred and crime, healthier and happier communities, more evolved world views and a greater sense of unity. Though I know I alone cannot move that needle, I do know that I can move the needle in my boys’ lives.

Though my teacher’s remark served as a blow to my ego and a forced glimpse of self-reflection, I came to realize his words, in the end, meant nothing. I had something my 8th-grade teacher never saw in me when he publicly denigrated me: emotional intelligence. And that is what I intend to arm my children with as they embark on a journey towards happy, healthy and successful lives.


Stephanie Young
Stephanie Young
Stephanie Young is a freelance communications consultant, writer and mother of two animated (wild) boys. She is the author of the eBook, “How to Eat Healthy Without Noticing: A Non-dieter's Guide to Eating Better” and a regular contributor to a number of online publications and blogs in the areas of health and wellness, nutrition, parenting and relationships. You can also find her writing in the popular anthology, “I Just Want To Be Alone.”

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