I don’t believe in curriculum. I don’t believe in telling kids what they should learn. I believe that inconsistency is the sign of open-mindedness and creativity. So it’s with pleasure that I tell you I’ve a penchant for curriculum for emotional intelligence.

Maybe it’s because I have a deficit myself. Or maybe it’s because my son also has one, and as soon as we got a diagnosis of Aspergers, at age two, we also received a set of curricula for emotional intelligence and a set of teachers to imbue it.

I use books, and therapists, and flashcards, and outings—anything I can find to teach social skills. Bonus suggestion for curriculum: there’s a (totally offensive) episode of South Park that does a good job of showing what what the world looks like to someone with Aspergers.

Anyway, everyone does better in the world with high emotional intelligence. I’m not even going to have a link for that sentence.  (Although sometimes I do think that providing links shows emotional intelligence—like when I link to something that is like a little present for you. Or I can link to a friend who I hope gets traffic from my link. Linking is all about being nice.)

I have been thinking about how to measure social intelligence. How can I tell how I’m doing teaching it to my kids? Here are some ways I’ve thought of:

Give them interview questions. Most companies have some sort of interview tactic to figure out the emotional intelligence of a candidate. The behavioral interview tells not very much about someone’s experience, but it reveals a lot about a person’s outlook. A question as simple as “tell me about a time. . .” gives someone the option of starting with an intellectual problem, and personality problem, or a logistical problem. That tells you if someone is oriented to ideas (respectively), people, or getting things done.

Fast Company published eight questions that work for this purpose. The list of questions includes what the answers show about a person, which enabled me to give that kind of interview to my sons. And while there is no score, the answers told me how much my sons value relationships and how much responsibility they take for their own situation—two harbingers of high emotional intelligence.

Focus on personality type risk factors. Once you know your child’s personality type you also know their weaknesses. Each weakness, no matter which type, is weakness of emotional intelligence, sort of an emotional intelligence blind spot.

For example, INTJs value intellectual competence and have no patience when it’s lacking. So for my INTJ son we talk a lot about how people are valuable for things that have nothing to do with intellect. (He’s still not convinced, unless the person happens to be doing something for him.)

My other son is an ESFP, and his weakness is how he will sacrifice his personal values for fun. So when friends come over and do something unacceptable on a farm, like chase chickens, I am relentless about how we need to speak up when someone is doing something we know is wrong. (So far the result is that my son didn’t invite that friend back because he doesn’t want to deal with conflict, a choice that I consider to be progress, because this year it’s the chicken chaser and in college it’ll be the drug dealer.)

Set specific goals. People can generalize behavior. A famous study by economist Richard Easterlin (that I can’t find) showed that kids who focused on walking with a book on their head for part of each day were actually more disciplined in other parts of their life. They woke up with an alarm more often, ate more healthy food, and did their homework more often. Herminiai Ibarra says that the same is true with emotional intelligence: if you focus on it you will improve.

So I pick one thing at a time for my sons to focus on. Lately it’s been flowers. I told them that women like receiving flowers, so men should send flowers. Even if men don’t understand themselves why this would be nice, it’s very kind to be able to give a gift that shows you understand the other person.

Then the kids brought me flowers from the grocery store. That was fine. Once. But, the kids need to learn to navigate the world of florists. I taught them how to find a local florist anywhere, and how to get a basic understanding of flowers so they’re not shooting in the dark.

My INTJ son asked why flowers have to be so bright and perky. “What if you don’t like that style?” he asked. I took that moment to show him my pictures I’ve been saving forever of  Claire Basler’s gorgeous, moody alternative to sunshine and happiness.

Of course he wished he’d never asked.

I told the kids to surprise me. “Send me flowers when I’m not expecting it!” I told them. Those are the best kind. But then I thought: what if their wives want them for Valentine’s Day or Women’s Day or Flag Day or some day that I don’t care about? What if their wives hate me for poor training?

But it’s emotional intelligence to know how to ask for what you want. And to marry someone who has that skill as well… Maybe that’ll be next on the curriculum.


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18 replies
  1. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:


    So insightful: “But it’s emotional intelligence to know how to ask for what you want.” Made me realize how big the gap is for me, even as an INFJ. Because, how do you ask for what you want when what you want are “good feelings” and that’s not what the other person finds interesting? What do you ask for to get that? Or maybe you have to change (reframe) what you want- maybe that has to evolve instead.

    • Tina
      Tina says:


      I think what you have to do is to is recognize what the other person is willing and able to give. And then you have to decide if you are willing to accept what the other person has to offer.

      And most likely as an INFJ you would struggle because others don’t hold the same values that you do. The challenge becomes accepting people as they are even if they don’t do things the way you would like them.

      So, I guess I come back to you have to identify what the other person has to offer and if that meets what you need.

  2. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    Tell your sons to have a series of conversations with their partners about what they want when it comes to holidays like Valentine’s Day. I care not a whit about that day. It could fall off the edge of the Earth and I wouldn’t miss it. But I had a conversation with my fiancee about it early on: what do you need on that day? And it turns out that she, like me, thinks it’s a made-up holiday and doesn’t value the flowers-and-expensive-dinner-out stuff. She asked if we could instead just snuggle on the couch in front of a movie. Awesome! If she had wanted the flowers-and-dinner thing, I would have grumbled internally a little but done it because it mattered to her. V-Day is not so hard for me that I can’t find some cheer and do that.

    PS: Rethink your relationship if your partner can’t participate reasonably in a discussion like that!

  3. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    No testing, no curriculum, no exceptions! I prefer your old advice, where you say instead of teaching your child to compensate for your shortcomings, you just work on your own shortcomings. Besides I think you are mixing up social skills and emotional intelligence, although they are related. And I’m not just saying this because in the first few years of knowing my husband I had to ‘untrain’ him to get him to stop sending me flowers; no flowers, no jewellery, no stuff.

    • Teach By Type
      Teach By Type says:

      I’m questioning if this is Penelope’s way of working on her shortcomings.

      I find myself taking a more traditional approach in teaching, when I’m not certain I have the knowledge to teach through modeling.

      I recently wrote about this EI. The results of EI assessments show homeschooled kids actually scored equal to or higher than traditional schooled kids. In elementary school there was no significant difference, The difference shows itself come middle school and beyond.

      Homeschooled kids also show less problem behavior.

      I’m guessing most of those kids aren’t following an EI curriculum.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I think you’re probably right about shortcomings. I know kids pick up social skills just fine at home. But I think its if there are normal parents. I’m scared my social deficits mean I need to teach the kids some other way.

        If I’m honest with myself, this is everything I hate about curriclum: the parents too insecure to trust their own kids.

        Ok. So I guess thank you- for reflecting my own advice back to me. Allowing kids to do self-directed learning requires parental bravery every step of the way.


        • Caitlin
          Caitlin says:

          It’s true that learning EQ naturally is most effective with really healthy parents. But, healthy parents understand that they have to be intentional. And I know many healthy parents who didn’t pass down EQ- especially NTJs who just expect their kids to figure it out like they did (their kids haven’t figured it out). Trusting your kids isn’t in conflict with mentoring them, especially here. Who’s going to do it if not their mom?

        • Karelys
          Karelys says:

          This is adorable. So endearing.
          But I adore the post. And there is so much good that comes from engaging in trying to teach these values to your children. Even if they’re born out of insecurity of your own emotional intelligence.

          Just the fact that they will pick up the habit of thinking in terms of what’s important to the other person….incredible valuable skill!

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I like the idea of an emotional intelligence curricula. The lessons learned are applicable throughout life in many different circumstances. As an example, Charles Schwab Corporation CEO Walt Bettinger has his own way of testing someone’s character in an interview. According to this article in the NY Times ( http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/07/business/walt-bettinger-of-charles-schwab-youve-got-to-open-up-to-move-up.html ), he meets someone for breakfast for the interview. He arrives early at the restaurant and arranges for the interviewee’s order to be messed up. Then he watches how the person responds to adversity. He also asks questions like – “Tell me about the greatest successes in your life.” – and judges from the responses he gets as to “whether their view of the world really revolves around others or whether it revolves around them.”
    Also from the same article above, he tells a story of a final exam he took in a college business strategy course. The professor gives the class a blank sheet of paper and asks – “What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?” That’s it. The whole exam. He didn’t know the answer so he failed. Read the article for the reason why. Share it with your INTJ son. People are valuable for things that have nothing to do with intellect.

  5. Cindy Gaddis
    Cindy Gaddis says:

    I also believe you may have been mixing up emotional intelligence with social skills and perspective taking, both of the latter being difficult for people on the spectrum. Well, so is emotional intelligence. But yes, having raised six boys, I feel one of my most important focuses from 5-10 years old was emotional intelligence. Boys are so often, culturally speaking, neglected in understanding and appropriately dealing with their emotions. More often than not, boys convert all feelings to anger. Hurt, shame, embarrassment, sadness, frustration, all get converted to anger. It was so important to help my sons identify these various feelings and support them in being able to express them as they are…hurt as hurt, shame as shame, sad as sad. Those are all tougher feelings because they are self-reflective feelings. Anger tends to allow a person to dispose of their feelings outwardly. So, yes, important stuff…different than what you are describing. But the stuff you’re describing is important, too!

  6. Blandy
    Blandy says:

    Social skills training isn’t new; mom called it “manners.” Please, thank you (including when and how to write a thank you note), how to use a butter knife, etc. This doesn’t cover the waterfront for kids who need more but it’s a start. Manners and good grammar are very useful — they put everyone on the same playing field; no one can make snap judgments against you because you speak incorrectly or have poor table manners. Plus it builds confidence — if you go out to dinner with the boss and know which one is the dessert fork, no worrying.

  7. Cindy Allen
    Cindy Allen says:

    Thank you for this.

    “I believe that inconsistency is the sign of open-mindedness and creativity.”

    I like that….

  8. Erin
    Erin says:

    Your stellar links are one of the main things that made me fall in love with your blog. Especially the self-referential ones.

  9. Kathy Donchak
    Kathy Donchak says:

    “If there is anything that we wish to change in a child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could be better changed in ourselves.” ~ C.G. Jung
    The problem with most emotional development curriculum is that it does not follow a child, challenge them and help them expand on what they know about themselves and the world around them. It does not meet them where they are as individuals, because that would be impossible in a teach-to curriculum. It needs to be a broad framework, where a parent or caregiver follows a child based their own unique strengths, sensory system differences and as you said Penelope – personality traits. In my opinion, homeschool environments naturally nurture EI as parents are following their child into homeschooling.

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