As a former teacher, I can tell you that SI, or social intelligence, is actually as important, if not more important in determining how your child will fare in life than having an above average IQ.
You have probably met an extremely bright child, perhaps even one of your own, who is a whiz at math, English, science, and any other academic subject you put before him, but who retreats as quickly as possible from any interaction with his peers. This child is likely suffering from low social intelligence.
I was probably one of the most introverted persons alive when I was young. My parents actually spanked me to force me to take part in a Christmas pageant at my school. I had one friend all through grade school and was devastated for months after she moved away. In college, I had to sit in my car and pray for 20 minutes to get up enough courage to walk into a speech class when it was my turn to get up and speak. To this day, I sometimes have to really push myself to interact with others in social situations.
But, if you think I was bad, let me tell you about the worst case of low social intelligence I ever encountered. When I was a junior in high school, our family moved to a new town with a high school that had a total enrollment of 107 students. Our class had only 25 members in it so you would think we would get to know each other very well.
In this tiny junior class, we had a boy named Marvin. Marvin never spoke to anyone. If the assignment called for an oral report, he stood in front of our class and delivered it like a pro. Then he sat down and looked straight ahead. If the teacher spoke to him, he answered, but if his classmates spoke to him, he got red in the face and looked away without speaking. I’m sorry to say, we weren’t nice to him at all. Today, a teacher would have found help for Marvin. Then, I don’t think there was any help available for kids like him.
Years later, at a class reunion, I was told that Marvin had been drafted into the army, and after he was discharged, he committed suicide. Whether his decision to end his life was due to his war experiences, or to his personal problems, I don’t know, but I do know that hearing about his suicide made me more aware of children in my classes who had social problems, and caused me to do everything I could to help them.
Schools that incorporate the teaching of social intelligence, sometimes called emotional intelligence, into their curriculum are seeing a rise of approximately 11 points on achievement test scores. They also find that when children learn relationship skills, they are more likely to experience success in all subject areas. (See notes below.)
You may be wondering by now, just what is social intelligence, anyway? And can you really teach such a thing? Actually, social intelligence is the ability to fit in with and get along with other people. And, yes, to some extent, it can be taught.
Social intelligence seems to come naturally to some people. You could possibly fake having regular intelligence by having someone else take a test for you or by pretending to know something that you don’t, but faking social intelligence would be very difficult. If you apply for a job, the person who interviews you can tell immediately whether or not you are likely to fit into their organization.
Here are some ways to identify kids who have low social or emotional intelligence. Some such kids cover up by using aggressive tactics, while others are very quiet and attempt to be unnoticed by others.
1. They may frequently invade the space of others.
Most of us like to have a minimum space between us and others when we communicate. Kids with low social intelligence are likely to push forward and “get in your face.”
2. They often use poor manners.
Cutting in line, eating with their mouth open, yelling or talking loudly, shoving, slamming doors, using unacceptable language, ridiculing others, always wanting to be first, etc. are things that should be learned at home, but for some reason they aren’t always taught or aren’t absorbed and put into action by the child.
I once taught a boy who had deaf parents. They could hear him speak if he yelled at the top of his lungs. This yelling carried over into his school hours, especially on the playground, and the other kids would refuse to have anything to do with him. After a few private reminders, he finally learned that he needed to develop a different voice tone to use when he was speaking to people away from home. Soon, other kids found that he wasn’t so different from them after all, and he actually became rather popular before the school year ended.
3, They sometimes seek to “hide” from those around them.
Behaviors opposite to the aggressive ones may also indicate a low social intelligence problem. Extreme shyness, secretiveness, being easily embarrassed, aversion to attention, etc.
4. They are often ridiculed or intimidated by others-not because they are poor in math or some other subject (although some may be), but because they are unable to fit into the group.
When we hear of still another school shooting, we are often amazed to find that the shooter made good grades, and quick to say, “How could a kid with so much going for him possibly do something like that?” I think, that if we look a little further, we will find that most of these “shooters” are suffering from low levels of social or emotional intelligence. How much better it would be if such young people were identified at a very young age and trained to overcome their social problems, whatever they may be.
I am all for attacking this problem in every possible way. No child should feel that he or she isn’t a part of the group, or doesn’t “fit in.” Besides the benefit of overcoming the problem for the children who are personally involved, the schools where these children attend enjoy some added perks, too. Most report a general improvement in behavior, less bullying and fights, fewer suspensions and occurrences of substance abuse, and, in general, a calmer atmosphere throughout the school and its grounds.
Here are some ways you can help.
1. Make sure your own children are taught basic rules for getting along and fitting in with others. Help them develop self-confidence and self-control.
2. Watch for signs of low social intelligence in your children’s friends and go out of your way to help them overcome this problem. Don’t be shy about teaching them manners when they are in your home if necessary, but be generous with compliments when they have done something nice.
3. Talk to administrators and teachers at your local school to be sure there is some sort of program to address this problem. Many schools strive for excellence in academics. Remind them that there is more to life than straight A’s on report cards.
4. If you have time and a volunteer’s heart, take a kid with obviously low social intelligence (they are really easy to find-just look around you) under your wing. Give them advice on how to handle themselves in different situations, and see that they are exposed to a variety of such things. Talk to them afterwards about what they did well, and what they could have done differently. Most kids will become your lifelong friends if they know you really care about them and are trying to help them have the best possible life.
5. Above all, spread the word. So many parents today seem concerned only with the grades their children bring home on their report cards. They need to know that the emotional and social intelligence of a child is just as important to their children’s future success and happiness as high grades.
Daniel Goleman, “Social & Emotional Intelligence,” Oregon Family, March 2009.