Emotional intelligence and attention skills development were the focus of a recent 14-month German study of 261 preschool and early elementary school children, ages 3 to 6 (von Salisch, Hänel, and Denham 2015). The study's researchers, with the help of the young students' teachers, evaluated the behavior of the children in regard to their emotional intelligence, and compared the results to the teachers' ratings of their ability to focus and remain attentive.

One of the researchers, Dr. Maria von Salisch, asserted in the study's press release that many psychologists have long held the notion that lowered executive function, which includes such abilities as working memory and language skills, has played a role in the development of attention-related disorders.

This study indicates that emotional intelligence also plays an important role in a child's ability to develop healthy attention skills.

The children were assessed both at the beginning and end of the study. In an attempt to track their emotional development for later comparison to the children's in-class attention skills, the assessment parameters included:

  • Each child's awareness of his or her own emotions.
  • The ability to apply emotion to thinking, and ability to communicate how they feel.
  • The ability of the child to regulate their own emotions (for example: calm down, cheer up).
  • The social skill of being able to regulate the emotions of others (for example, recognizing sadness in another and attempting to comfort them).

The study showed that children who were able to develop their emotional skills at a healthy rate were also markedly better able to maintain focus and attention in the classroom than the children who struggled with internal and social emotional development.

This study clearly shows that emotional skills play a definitive part in whether or not a child develops a healthy ability to focus and keep attention. The realization that development of emotional intelligence influences the developmental outcome, with just as much consequence as executive function development, for conditions such as ADD/ADHD, is not surprising.

Having published proof of the relationship with a study such as this is helpful to both the psychologist and the family, as it allows for better understanding and a greater, more purposeful focus for treatment and further research.


von Salisch M, Hänel M, Denham SA. Emotionswissen, Exekutive Funktionen und Veränderungen bei Aufmerksamkeitsproblemen von Vorschulkindern (translation: Emotion Knowledge, Executive Functions and Changes in Attention Problems of Preschoolers).

Kindheit und Entwicklung. 2015.

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