As conscientious and caring parents, we invest a lot of time and money in helping our children develop the skills they need to succeed in life. We send them to the best schools, save for college, sign them up for soccer and piano lessons, and teach them the value of hard work. At the end of it all, we envision ourselves gazing proudly at a shelf full of trophies and a framed diploma feeling satisfied that our hard work has paid off.
But will our children really be as well prepared for life as we think they will be?
When they get frustrated because someone else is scoring all the goals, what do they do with those feelings?
When they get their first job and encounter an unreasonable supervisor, how will they respond? Do they have the necessary empathy and understanding to win friends and influence people? Do they have the confidence and self-assurance to chase a dream that might take them far from the well-worn path?
There’s no denying that academics, athletics and extra-curricular activities are central components in a child’s upbringing. But as the new field of neuroscience is showing us, it’s the social and emotional aspects of learning—their Emotional Intelligence (EQ)—that determine a child’s happiness, health, security and future success in life far more than their physical prowess, educational accomplishments or their IQ.
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand our emotions and the emotions of others, and use that information to help others and ourselves. For young children, the understanding of emotions can be very difficult. First, they must understand and identify how they themselves feel, what is causing their happiness or frustration, and then behave appropriately. Additionally, emotional intelligence means respecting the feelings of others, understanding others’ needs and sympathizing with them. Valuing and dealing with our emotions leads to happiness and success.
New research into brain development, attachment and the impact of stress in pregnancy confirms that pregnancy and the first five years are the most formative years in children’s lives. Families are the bedrock of society, as well as the best place for nurturing happy, capable, resourceful and emotionally balanced children. Strong social and emotional skills and the ability to handle their feelings well are derived from a loving, supportive family and a breadth of positive experiences in childhood
All children have the potential to succeed and deserve the opportunity to go as far as their talents can take them. Good social and emotional skills are critical in healthy personal development. They build resilience and a positive sense of self, while reducing the likelihood of engaging in risky or anti-social behavior. They also support educational achievement, employment and earnings, and relationships in later life. Studies show that when children do not get these advantages, they do not fare as well as their more advantaged peers.
Emotional Intelligence encompasses a wide range of skills that children of all ages can develop and improve. The different components of EQ include:
Soothing negative emotions: Emotions can be painful and young children can become overwhelmed by their emotions. They need help soothing themselves when they are hurt or upset. Over time, they will learn how to internalize your caring response to pain and crying. If a child is hurt, validate their experience; rather than telling them “it doesn’t hurt,” confirm that the pain exists, and show them sympathy and concern when they are in distress. Young children also need words to express how they feel in order to develop control over their negative emotions.
Using Anger in a Positive Manner: Anger can be positive or negative, productive or destructive. When children get angry, it is a sign that they are uncomfortable with something that is happening to them. Children need help and guidance in learning to separate healthy feelings from unhealthy feelings, and in turning negative feelings into positive ones. First, a child’s anger must be recognized and identified by the parent. Give your children the words to ask appropriately for what they want. Sympathize with their frustration, and at the same time be clear with them that inappropriate or aggressive behavior will not result in them getting what they want.
Naming Emotions: Young children feel a variety of emotions but often don’t understand how they feel or have the words to express themselves, which can often result in negative behavior. When a child does not know how to name or understand his emotions, he may have trouble getting what he wants and acting in positive ways. An emotions wheel, chart, or cards with faces showing different expressions are useful in helping children identify how they are feeling. Parents should give their children words to use, such as ‘frustration’, ‘scared’, ‘angry’, and ‘nervous’ so they can express and use their emotions in positive ways. In a group situation, classmates can be told, “Thomas is feeling very sad today so let’s try to help him feel better.” Or, “Eliza is unhappy because she fell down and hurt herself. What do you think we could do to help her feel better?”
Understanding and sympathizing with others: Understanding how others feel is very important in forming friendships and developing relationships with people around us. Children can only learn how to sympathize with other people when understanding and sympathy are shown to them. Parents should talk to their children about their own feelings. For example, “I had a difficult day at work today and I am angry.” Or, “I am happy because I spoke to my friend Suzy today.” Parents can help children understand others’ emotions by teaching them how to respond to a child in distress. “Caroline is angry because she is not playing with you. Why don’t you ask her to join in the game?”
Controlling anxiety and nervousness: Children often face tremendous stress, leading to anxiety, insecurity and nervousness. Children need to learn that a specific problem is causing their anxiety and need help figuring out what needs to be fixed. A trusting, caring relationship is vital to help a child feel secure and protected. Parents can help guide children to understand what is causing the problem and give them words to express their thoughts and feelings. Calming techniques, such as deep breathing and relaxing muscles, can be used to refocus a child and help him or her deal with a problem.
Helping our children develop their social skills and Emotional Intelligence is one of the greatest gifts we can give to them. A happy, self-assured, confident child doesn’t fear the unknown and may even come to take pleasure in life’s inherent unpredictability. A child who is keenly self-aware knows that every storm is a chance to learn something new. By facing it head on, they gain an increasingly higher level of inner strength and confidence, which helps them become more secure in who they are and where they’re headed.
Raising a centered, secure, emotionally fluent and well-grounded child simply requires love, understanding, and access to the best and most up to date information, strategies, tools and support.
We stuff our children with knowledge, we exercise their bodies and brains with sports and play spaces, we teach them dexterity and competitiveness with increasingly sophisticated computer programs and games, we encourage them to become “winners” in life, we over-schedule their out-of-school hours with a variety of extra-curricular activities designed to make them faster, stronger, more athletic and accomplished than the next child, and in so doing, we are creating a culture of competition, separation, isolation, exclusion, and an “I have to be better than you” society.
The social fabric of society has changed beyond recognition since the 1950s. In just two generations, we have gone from a society that believed in community values, in caring for those less fortunate than ourselves, in the value of true sportsmanship and of the “greater good” to one in which many families are separated or fragmented by divorce, immigration, or the search for a better job, a bigger income, and a grander lifestyle.
Society has become increasingly fragmented over the past few decades. As populations have grown, and more and more people move away from the towns, cities and villages in which they were raised, our sense of community is diminishing. Paradoxically, the need for community is being fulfilled by relationships that are developed at a distance, via computers, emails, and social media.
No matter how sophisticated we get in terms of technology and education, research shows that connection, interconnectedness, and the quality of our relationships is still the most important thing in our lives. And as studies have revealed, the happiest, healthiest and most contented people are those who have strong social skills and a high Emotional IQ.
As Daniel Goleman, PHD, author of the bestselling books Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence says: “Good relationships nourish us on every level and support our health, while toxic relationships can poison us. And our success and happiness on the job, in our marriages and families, even our ability to live in peace, depend crucially on our emotional radar and social skills.”
According to Goleman, we are hard wired to connect; we are programmed for kindness, and we can use our social and emotional intelligence to make the world a better place.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Editor in Chief of INSPIRED PARENTING, SANDIE SEDGBEER is a British-born journalist, media expert, and the author of several books published by major international publishing houses.
She is the founder of several cutting edge online and print magazines and websites, and a Talk TV and Radio personality. She currently hosts two weekly radio shows, The Inspired Parenting Show on OMTimes Radio and Conversation at the Cutting Edge on VividLife.me. www.sedgbeer.com.