What’s the difference between cognitive vs. emotional intelligence?

What’s the difference between cognitive vs. emotional intelligence?

When American parents talk about the traits they want their children to have, “intelligent” is the most common word (see study here). However, intelligence can mean a wide range of skills. In the past, our schools prioritized cognitive intelligence. Now we know that emotional intelligence is equally – if not more – essential. Kids with emotional intelligence can build strong relationships and manage their emotions. Let’s look at the difference between cognitive vs. emotional intelligence and take a deep-dive into why emotional intelligence is important to cultivate in your kids.

Different types of intelligences

To start, leading psychologists suggest there are several types of intelligences, including cognitive vs. emotional.

Generally speaking, cognitive intelligence refers to the ability to reason, mentally focus, process visual information and have a working memory. For example, when we talk about IQ, we mean cognitive intelligence.

On the flip side, emotional intelligence is all about identifying emotions, relating to others and communicating socially. The essence of emotional intelligence is being able to manage and express feelings in yourself, as well as perceiving them in others.

This infographic above gives a good summary of cognitive vs. emotional intelligence and points out that emotional intelligence is a flexible skill that kids can learn.

Emotional intelligence examples

Why bother with emotional intelligence? A few key examples can clarify why emotional intelligence is vital. Basically, it gives kids some core skills such as the ability to:

  • Think before reacting: All kids have moments of frustration. Developing emotional intelligence allows them to pause and reflect before reacting. This avoids temper tantrums.
  • Listen and receive criticism: Emotional intelligence fine tunes the ability to listen to others. This helps with tough conversations like receiving constructive criticism.
  • Move on after making a mistake: Some kids struggle with self-esteem and mistakes can make it worse. Emotional intelligence helps them process the mistake and move on.
  • Understand own needs and say no: Kids who understand their emotions are able to articulate what they need. They feel confident rejecting peer pressure and saying no.
  • Empathize with others and collaborate: Empathy is essential for good teamwork and relationship building. Kids who can step into their classmates’ shoes are able to collaborate well.

As you can see, cognitive vs. emotional intelligence are quite different in practice. These examples show why emotional intelligence is important for kids to thrive in and out of the classroom.

Why emotional intelligence is important

Emotional intelligence allows people to connect with others, manage their emotions and make more mature decisions. Every child – regardless of their level of cognitive intelligence – can benefit from improving emotional intelligence. Ultimately, our relationships and workplaces run smoothly because of emotional – not cognitive – intelligence.

Can emotional intelligence be learned?

Absolutely, yes. Studies show that emotional intelligence is flexible and can be learned. (Surprisingly, cognitive intelligence may be more fixed.) This means you can boost emotional intelligence by modeling positive behavior. You can also develop it through good social-emotional habits and open conversations about emotions.

Cultivating emotional intelligence in your kids

You can cultivate emotional intelligence at home and school by having open conversations about feelings. As a parent, you can start nurturing emotional intelligence with these daily actions that nurture emotional intelligence.

You can also make the learning process fun by getting social-emotional learning games like Chat Chains. This game frees up kids to talk about their feelings and learn social skills. If you’re struggling to get past “how was your day?” – “fine” with your kids, games like this can do wonders.


Bottom line: emotional intelligence is an essential skill and you should start to cultivate it in your kids today. Cognitive vs. emotional intelligence involve distinct skills that should be emphasized by parents and teachers. It’s important for kids to grow into well-balanced, mature adults with socially rich lives.


1. Is IQ or EQ More Important?, Verywell Mind, https://www.verywellmind.com

2. 13 Things Emotionally Intelligent People Do, Inc.com, https://www.inc.com

3. Emotional Intelligence Examples, Positive Psychology, https://positivepsychology.com

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1 comment

This is powerful post with useful information for everyone who values emotional intelligence for interpersonal relationships and civility.

George Anderson

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