What's the Difference Between Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence?

Understanding how emotional and social intelligence are related but separated barometers and how to help our child develop them.

Emotional intelligence or emotional & social learning (ESL) is getting more and more commonly brought up. They are some of the top soft skills that parents cite as crucial for their child to have for them to thrive and optimise any other potential.

Here at Gifted Kids Asia Research, we’ve previously discussed them in a different context, from empathy to learning these skills in a remote setting. With the pandemic lingering, inevitably, we can’t help but wonder how these have a knock-on effect on our child’s development. But as we adapt to a hybrid of remote and physical schooling, the philosophy behind ESL is crucial to help our children cope. 

There are many write-ups on emotional intelligence or social intelligence. But usually not together, and there’s a reason for that. While social intelligence and emotional intelligence may look similar, they are both distinctly different in their way and serve other functions. 

We will take a brief overview of both of these barometers and understand how they are interconnected and how they are different.

Emotional intelligence: More Than Just Feelings

Emotional intelligence is a set of skills associated with recognising and managing one’s own and others’ emotions and the ability to use emotions to guide one’s thinking and actions (Salovey & Mayer 1990).  Emotions impact our attention, memory, and learning, our ability to build relationships with the people around us, as well as our physical and mental health (Salovey & Mayer 1990).

Our emotions are a type of deep intellect within us that often respond faster than our analytical minds. Beyond being able to pay attention and being more engaged in school, numerous research has shown how it is critical to our safety, well-being and guides us through uncharted waters. 

For example, notice how young children would react physically to the emotions that they feel. They would cry and perhaps even yell when they’re upset. When they’re scared, they may instinctively move away or run from what scares them. When in pain, their body would jerk away from that source of pain.

Being aware of emotions and learning even from a young age to self-regulate helps build emotional intelligence. Emotional self-regulation is a significant component of that, including self-awareness, motivation, empathy and social skills. 

The more experiences they have, the more they can tap into that wisdom and knowledge to navigate future ones and make thoughtful decisions. 

Social Intelligence: More than Being A Social Butterfly 

Taking a closer look at social skills and how it’s connected to social intelligence, we can see how social intelligence is closely linked with emotional intelligence. We express the maturity of our emotional intelligence when we’re socially intelligent or socially aware.

Our emotional reaction to an event or someone may be instinctive, but our social intelligence makes the difference between our reaction and action.  We can choose how we respond to a situation.

Social intelligence allows us to carry conversations with a wide array of people and appropriately communicate with them, be excellent listeners, form bonds with loved ones, and in general, be able to get along with people. Our social intelligence guides us to navigate life.

We grow through our interactions and personal growth. For our child to engage positively with others, they need to understand the social difference. For example, you would not speak in the same way toward your 70-year-old mother as you would with your 16-year-old teenage daughter.

Building up social intelligence allows our child to pick up social etiquette. As they grow older, they would come to meet peers and people from all walks of life. Being able to acknowledge and understand people’s different background is a crucial way to connect with them.

After all, humans are social creatures, and for us to form a deep bond with each other, we must be fully engaged, be active listeners, and then respond to them accordingly. 

Emotional Intelligence vs Social Intelligence

Now, how do they overlap, and what is the difference between these two barometers? Howard Gardner’s (1983) theory of multiple intelligences defines social (interpersonal) and emotional (intrapersonal) intelligence as separate but related entities. We can see how by understanding our emotions, we’ll be able to respond to others accordingly. 

But, in what ways do social and emotional intelligence differ? Social intelligence has more of an outward expression, whereas emotional intelligence focuses more on inward ability (Gardner, 1983). Social intelligence is the ability to understand others, how they work, what motivates them and how to get along. 

On the other hand, emotional intelligence looks inward to understand one’s emotions, learning to master those emotions and using this knowledge to guide one’s behaviour. In response to that, as we highlighted earlier, social intelligence is based on relationships, and it’s how we understand, interact and present ourselves to others. 

How We Can Help Our Child Develop These Types of Intelligence

It’s never too early for us to help our child develop their emotional and social intelligence. These types of intelligence are crucial to help them work through their challenges and respond to situations well. It will also assist them in making positive connections with the people around them. 

Get them to talk about they feel and help them build their emotional vocabulary. Put a name to their emotions: sad, angry, frustrated, etc. Then, proceed to ask why they’re feeling the emotions they just named.

One great example of these tools is the Mood Meter — a square graphic divided equally into four primary colour quadrants. Each colour represents a category of moods, i.e. red signifies anger or frustration, blue is sadness or despair. If they are more mindful of how their emotions affect their actions, they gain greater self-awareness and self-regulation.

(Taken from www.naeyc.org)

When they’re able to identify how they feel, we can introduce them strategies that can help them effectively regulate emotions. Some of these include taking deep breaths, stepping away and allowing physical distance or even encouraging them to talk it out. 

How we feel is instinctive, and we cannot fully control how we feel. But we can always choose how we want to respond to the situation. Those strategies allow our child to respond and express how they feel to others in the best way possible.

Role Models For Our Child

To raise resilient children, children who are both social and emotionally intelligent, children who are empathetic and have social etiquette starts with us. As parents and educators, we are their role models and their emotional coach to guide them through. 

The most important thing to remember is that while all emotions are acceptable, not all behaviours are. When we are patient with how our child expresses them, we can use their emotional experiences as an opportunity to help them develop their emotional and social intelligence to do better in school and get along with their peers. 

We mustn’t shy away from difficult situations. When we work through them, we demonstrate to our child that emotions are not an inconvenience but rather a piece of human evolution that serves a purpose. We need to patiently guide them to respect and reflect upon their emotions to practice developing these two bits of intelligence. 

Gifted Kids Asia Research is passionate about nurturing gifted kids through invested parenting. If you’re keen to learn more about how to optimise your child’s intelligence and potential, you can check out the carefully crafted programs and courses we have in store.


Why ‘Social and Emotional Learning’ Is So Important for Kids Right Now > News > Yale Medicine

Emotional Intelligence in Children | LD, ADHD and Emotional Skills | Understood - For learning and thinking differences

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Mayer, J.D., & P. Salovey 1997. “What Is Emotional Intelligence?” In Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Educational Implications, eds. P. Salovey & D.J. Sluyter, 3–31. New York: Basic Books.

Salovey, P., & J.D. Mayer. 1990. “Emotional Intelligence.” Imagination, Cognition, and Personality 9 (3): 185–211.

Gardner, H. (1983). The theory of multiple intelligences. Heinemann.

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