Why is it important to build emotional intelligence in children?

I was walking a friend out the door after an intense discussion. The end of our meeting turned out to be a step by step process. First, we concluded the discussion verbally, and then briefly discussed some follow-up thoughts. Then we stood up and spoke some more. Next, there was a new topic we took up on our way to the door. Finally, we continued to speak as she waited for the elevator. All this while, my eight-year-old student was observing us.
When my friend finally left, he said, “You really wanted her to leave but she just wasn’t going was she?”
At first, I was slightly defensive because obviously not wanting someone to stay is rude. Plus, she’s a good friend. And then to admit to an eight-year-old, who I’m supposed to be mentoring that I wanted a guest to leave, was a bit much. Then I started to realise rather admit I was slightly agitated. It was true- I wanted our meeting to end because I had to start teaching. I was pleasantly surprised that this little guy was able to pick up on my body language and verbal cues, something my grown-up friend wasn’t able to do.
“Wow M, it’s amazing that you picked up on that. Good Job!” he sat there with a cheeky smile, swinging his feet back and forth.
I was quite pleased with both of us. I was proud of him for being so observant, but also a little of myself for noticing. Basically, I can tell you that working with kids teaches you a lot.
I have been working with younger children for about seven odd years. That, and the fact that I have had a fair share of psychological education, makes me curious about what is going on with them. Especially when it comes to their emotions, and how they choose to react to them. Younger children tend to show you how to approach life in the simplest ways. Although most of the time this approach is immature, it can be quite honest and free of the unnecessary baggage adults carry. For instance, they are annoyingly aware of what they want and don’t want to do, and will mostly never hesitate to make you aware of it.
However, as with everything else, children need help navigating. A lot of the time I notice them hoarding second-hand emotions like guilt, regret, or resentments. No household is bereft of difficult experiences, and many times adults seem to overlook these silent observers. In fact, adults usually underestimate how much children absorb and hone. Unfortunately, most of the time this can have devastating effects in adulthood (Hello, Freud!).
So simple questions that help them roughly identify, compartmentalise, and see where these emotions might be coming from actually helps release some of the energy almost instantly. Once a student told me how she feels “bad” because her parents had contracted an illness on a trip, while she was thousands of miles away. After a short discussion she told me that this was because she wasn’t there with them. The little girl was sitting with guilt. A simple follow up conversation helped her disengage from the guilt, it was okay for her to feel down because her parents were not well, and so perhaps pray for them. But she no longer had to feel responsible for this.
It’s simple statements or questions like “How does this make you feel?”, “What can you do to make it better?”, “This isn’t your fault”, or even, “It is okay to feel such and such”. Once children learn to exercise such thoughts, they can become instinctive, and even evolve as they grow up. So emotional intelligence is a powerful tool, in fact, having been through the disaster that was 2020, this is truer than ever before.
Being given skills to identify our feelings and prioritise them and as a result holding what is necessary for growth and wellbeing and dismissing what is not; also then being able to pick up on what others are experiencing could do wonders. Imagine the amount of people who get intervention at the right time, the amount of conflicts and misunderstandings avoided- the possibilities are endless. I am wondering if the world would be slightly easier for everyone if people were taught from a young age to be aware of their own emotions, be aware of the emotions of others, and self-regulate. Perhaps this is part of the solution. Perhaps this is the solution.