Supporting our kids' Emotional Growth

What is “EQ”? Emotional Intelligence, nicknamed EQ (as opposed to IQ, cognitive intelligence) generally corresponds to Gardner’s Intra- and Inter-Personal Intelligence and is often described as these five abilities:

  • Knowing and understanding one’s own emotions
  • Managing and effectively responding to those emotions
  • Motivating one’s self, especially regulating impulses and deferring gratification
  • Empathy, recognizing and understanding others’ emotions
  • Managing relationships and interaction with others effectively

These abilities, rather than IQ, determine one’s ability to succeed in life.

Teaching children emotional intelligence

  • Build a rich feeling vocabulary
  • Build empathy (Reflecting on books, pictures, observations)
  • Reinforce the idea that feelings are transient
  • Reinforce the idea that we can choose our response to events and feelings
  • Use Emotion Coaching

As described by John Gottman, there are five steps to “emotion coaching”:

1. Being aware of the child’s emotions

2. Recognizing the emotions as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching

3. Listening empathetically and validating the child’s feeling;

4. Helping the child verbally label emotions; and

5. Setting limits while helping the child problem-solve.

  • Point out when they’ve done well.

Being a model

  • Name your own emotions
  • Take responsibility for your emotions
  • Work through your emotions and responses out loud
  • Examine your modeling for gossiping, putting down, seeking revenge, blaming, being intolerant…

“We do not allow meanness, but we do allow sadness.”

Or, When and How to Intervene in Children’s Emotional Issues

Look to the guidelines problem ownership gives us.

When it’s the Adult’s problem:

  • When we have a problem with a child’s behavior but he doesn’t seem to, we can change ourselves or the environment to eliminate the problem, make requests, give reasons, express our own feelings, and be sure solutions are followed through.
  • Since we know that practice makes perfect, we don’t want to allow our kids to practice being unkind, although we expect each of them to be occasionally.

What that looks like: 

We intervene immediately when we see unkindness, by

first validating the child’s feelings leading up to the unkindness,

then restating the limit and reasons for it, and

finishing with a plan for an alternative to move forward.

“Whoa! You were really mad when he messed up your game!

And I won’t let you call names.

Name calling hurts hearts, and my job is to keep minds and bodies safe.

Do you need some help to resolve this?”

“You guys wanted to keep the game going the same as you had it, just the two of you.

And I won’t let you exclude people from the game. Being excluded hurts.

Everyone can play and everyone is welcome.

Can you make a plan to invite her?”

If the child defends his actions, validate some more, and then repeat steps two and three as well. Repeat as needed until the children make a plan to act kindly.

When it’s the Child’s problem:

  • When a child has a problem, he’s denied the opportunity to learn if we fix it for him.

Our job is to listen, to act as a consultant, and to support him through the experience.

  • Intervene to support the child’s learning, not to rescue him from unhappiness.

When we rush to a child’s rescue, we imply to him and his peers that he is incapable.

  • Allowing children to experience distress helps them learn to weather distress.

When we fix it all, we miss the chance to help a child build the skills it takes to respond to and weather rough times, and accept them as part of a mostly happy life.

What that looks like: 

We do allow children to experience sadness or frustration, with our support.

“So the game wasn’t feeling good to you. What would help it feel better?”

“Sounds like she’s in a teasing mood today. What’s your plan?

Will you still play with her, or go play with someone else or do something different?”

“I’m so sorry that happened. What kind of help would you like, to respond?”

“Yes, our rule is that “You can’t say you can’t play”. Want help to remind them?”

“That can really hurt your feelings. How did you handle that?”

Acknowledging Differences

The Animal School: A Fable by George Reavis

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

Does this fable have a moral?

Perhaps: There is nothing so unfair as the equal treatment of unequals!