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Emotional Intelligence Helps Kids Weather Life’s Setbacks

Emotional Intelligence Helps Kids Weather Life’s Setbacks

Emotional Intelligence depicted as a boy carrying a brain
By Lisa Thompson.
We spend thousands on dance lessons, travel baseball, learning to play the piano. We buy our kids the best clothes, the newest cars and the most popular technology. We help them avoid being the target of bullying and ridicule. We teach them how to stay safe from internet predators and how to navigate social situations. But do we ever pause to consider their emotional intelligence?

Emotional IQ is the best skill set you can teach your children, especially those with special challenges. I’m not a psychologist, doctor or professional counselor. I’m just a mom speaking from experience. Focusing on my son’s emotional intelligence gives me hope.

I’m not worried about Porter competing at UIL competition, winning a spelling bee championship or passing the STAAR test. Because Porter struggles with learning, and sometimes basic concepts, I have the freedom to focus on his emotional wellness. Instead of focusing on his grades, I try to concentrate on how he processes rejection and interacts with others. I approach this freedom as a blessing and opportunity rather than a burden.

Some of my friends and family voiced concern about the potential damage this column could cause Porter in the future.

“Is oversharing really healthy?” they asked.

“Are you hurting his chances at a normal life later?

Will he be embarrassed when he grows up and reads it?

What are you gaining?”

They’re all valid points, ones I’d already considered. I don’t have all of the answers, but I knew this column was something I had to do.

I know there are other parents struggling with doubt and worry and fear and overwhelming anxiety about a new diagnosis or a nagging suspicion that something is amiss. I’ve been there. What a scary place to be!

So, I’m writing. I’m sharing. I’m taking a deep breath and continuing to put it all out there.

My Son’s Reaction to My Article:

After such a positive response to my last column, I felt like I owed it to Porter to let him know I was writing about him. I decided to read my last column to him, bracing myself for his disapproval. I waited until we were alone in the car, side by side, within arm’s reach but not looking at each other.

We sat in the driveway and I read the article to him. I didn’t change or omit words. I wanted to, but I didn’t dampen or soften it.

And then I waited.

He smiled. It began as a smirk, a little tug at the edges of his mouth, and then a big, flashy smile crept across his lips. His blue eyes brightened.

“That’s great, Mom,” he said. “You wrote really good. Who let you do that?”

A wave of relief rushed over me—he wasn’t mad. He was eager to understand.

“Well, I guess my friend Traci. She owns the magazine that published the article.”

“Like, for the whole city?” he asked.

I nodded.

“The region, which is like Texarkana and Atlanta and a lot of the little towns around here.”

“Oh, wow!” he said, and then he shrugged. “Well, okay. I guess if they think I’m the best one to write about, then I don’t care. I guess if they think I’m the one, then okay.”

I realized I’d been holding my breath. This was his way of playing his almost-teenager-too-cool-for-school card.

“Oh, good,” I said. “I’m so glad you like it. I was worried you’d be embarrassed or wouldn’t want me to share details about your struggles. You know I never want to hurt you.”

“No, I don’t care. You can tell them. But Mom, you have to tell them about my friendships. Tell them about how I play soccer and basketball and that I am in middle school. Tell them I play video games like Fortnite.”

I was holding tears back. We hugged, which is rare nowadays. Later that night, he stuck his head into the living room where I was sitting in the floor with his little brother.

“And mom,” he said. I looked up at him. “Tell them I’m smart.”

Friends, he is so smart.

Smart is so much more than intellectual ability, or scores on an IQ test, or what grades you make in school.

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Porter doesn’t know his multiplication tables, although Commissioner Morath of the Texas Education Agency would tell you that every third grader in public schools in Texas must know their multiplication tables. He doesn’t read with the fluency of a sixth grader, and he can’t solve reasoning and logic problems yet. There are plenty of benchmarks he’s not close to meeting.

But here’s the thing: for every single benchmark he has missed, he has mastered a social or emotional skill that rivals some of the most mature adults I know. I know these skills will prove useful throughout his life.

I’m not going to lie to you—some days I mourn the educational goals he’s not meeting,

and I would give most anything to fix that part of his life. But then there are days that I watch him gracefully navigate difficult social situations and the most awkward moments a small town has to offer.

I watch him get back up and dust himself off after he has literally tripped at school. He lets the hurtful words of others roll right off. I realize that what he’s developing is much more important than the things the state thinks he needs to know to advance to the next grade level. I don’t just value emotional intelligence because my child struggles with traditional intellectual ability.

Do you know why kids are mean, bullying prevails, and teen suicide is prevalent? It’s because kids are hurting. It’s because they don’t have the right tools to process their emotions.

It’s because we haven’t cared for their mental health the way we care for their grades and physical wellbeing.

Check for Their Emotional Intelligence

Regardless of whether your child has special needs, I’d like to offer some scenarios for consideration. If your answers are “I don’t know,” “not recently” or “not well,” then it may be time to focus on developing your child’s emotional IQ.

  • How does your child react to disappointment?
  • How will your child deal with the loss of a loved one?
  • Can your child handle missing out on something?
  • Does your child know how to handle being left out?
  • Can your child navigate being made fun of?
  • Can your child stick up for themselves or for a friend who is being bullied?
  • How does your child react to losing a game or competition?
  • Does your child push forward in difficult situations?
  • Are they intrinsically motivated?
  • Can your child respond appropriately to being told no?
  • When your child has been emotionally hurt, do they bounce back?
  • Do you give your kids space to feel their emotions?
  • Is crying okay in your house? Even for boys?
  • When’s the last time your kid mentioned an emotion they were experiencing?
  • Do you talk it out, even when they don’t want to?

I certainly don’t have this all sorted out.

Raising three boys, including one who requires different everything, is messy and hard. We yell a lot more than I want. There are a lot more tears than I expected. And at the end of a lot of days, when the house is quiet and there are three sleeping boys in another room, I find myself wishing I could get a do-over. This parenting thing is SO hard.

The only thing we can do is keep getting better, keep being authentic, and keep working to show our kids what a healthy emotional state looks like.

We recently lost my father-in-law, and all three boys handled it differently. One needed space, one needed snuggles, and one needed everything to remain the same. The loss of our beloved dad and papaw feels insurmountable at times, but I am thankful that the boys have the chance to learn how to grieve in a safe, loving, forgiving atmosphere.


That’s how we have to look at every tragedy and setback as parents. Each moment that takes our breath away and rips out our soul is a chance for us to teach them how to respond. Divorce, losing a job, an injury, filing for bankruptcy, fighting with a friend, a car wreck, embarrassment, shame, and every other heartbreak is an opportunity to teach them about emotional stability and fortitude.

They need to see how we hurt and how we bounce back. Now is the time to begin that work, friends, as hard and big as it may be.


Lisa Thompson is a mother of three boys and is married to Brad, a firefighter with the Texarkana Texas Fire Department. She is the Economic Developer for the City of Texarkana, TX and teaches as an adjunct at University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana.

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