Thursday, October 27, 2016

Teaching Children Emotional Intelligence: Breathe into Being

You have probably heard the term “emotional intelligence” many times before. But what exactly is it, and why is it important for children to develop their emotional intelligence? How can children develop emotional intelligence, and, what does breathing have to do with it? Kindly read the following, dear reader, and learn the answers to these questions, and more!
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EI) is a person’s ability to identify; evaluate; control and express emotions. This kind of intelligence helps us communicate with others, negotiate situations, and develop clearer thought patterns. Emotional intelligence is the insight into and understanding of how your emotions can positively or negatively impact your life and capacity through your behavioral skills. EI is the process of recognition (understanding what you are feeling) and assessment (deciding on the best way to be the best version of yourself). Simply put, EI is awareness.
What Emotional Intelligence is not
Whilst EI and understanding your own emotions helps with remaining calm, EI is not, in itself, calmness; it is not joyfulness, hopefulness, agreeableness or other personality traits.
What do Emotional Intelligent people look like?
Emotionally intelligent individuals stand out! Their ability to empathize; persevere; control impulses; communicate clearly; make thoughtful decisions; solve problems and work with others earns them friends and success. They tend to have higher self-esteem; are more confident; lead happier lives; and have more satisfying relationships. At school they are more productive and spur productivity in others and help create a safe, comfortable classroom atmosphere that makes it easier to learn (and teach!).
Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman popularized the term "Emotional Intelligence" in his landmark 1995 best-selling book of the same name. What emotional intelligence is, says Goleman, "…is the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships." It's the set of abilities that helps us get along in life with other people in all kinds of life situations.

Mindful Breathing
In my years’ of teaching (and living), I have realized that integrating mindful breathing is a sure-fire way to tune in - and in turn - generate EI. Kids: aren’t they too young? NO- not at all! I have been surprised time and time again how children gravitate to a quiet moment. There are plenty of ways to teach mindful breathing. One of the simplest is to have children lay down, close their eyes, put their hands (or a stuffed animal) on their belly and breathe to the count of three (see their hands/stuffed animal go up) and then breathe out to the count of three (hands/stuffed animal descends). Repeat a few times. Once they are comfortable with this, the teacher could introduce affirmations, such as “I am caring, confident and intelligent” or any other positive statement. The children are in a space of love and acceptance through the simple act of breathing mindfully.
Self-Awareness and Empathy
Characteristics like self-awareness and empathy play a big part in every facet of life. We all know that how we feel about others and ourselves can profoundly affect our ability to concentrate, to remember, to think, and to express ourselves. Children without EI don't follow directions well, continually go off-task, can't pay attention for long, and have difficulty working cooperatively.
I came across this simile that describes my sentiments exactly! “Teaching without implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) is like leading kids without shoes on a trek across the Himalayas. Count on a short trip with lots of whining!”
Social and emotional learning, (SEL) the increasingly common term for EI instruction, can be expressed in a multitude of ways: it can be a lesson on the hurtfulness of insults, followed by discussions on ways to share compliments effectively. It can be the daily morning meeting, where students share feelings, such as the sadness of their pet dying or the joy of a family outing. In literacy lessons, it can be an analysis of a conflict and a dialogue about different paths the character might have taken. It can be a common occurrence, like everyday mindful breathing, to take a moment to think, rather than react automatically, and often aggressively, to stress. 
Many teachers, I included, see the results of such instruction in school because of its effect on both the school environment and education. Disruptions due to acting out, arguing or talking back decreases. We spend less time disciplining, and more time teaching. Energy flows in a positive classroom, where students and teachers alike respond with heart, instead of react in haste.
EI learning is not a quick fix or a one-time lesson. The best programs take years to get to a place where teachers and students are comfortable and the benefits substantial. While a growing number of school programs include elements of instruction aimed at a child's emotional needs, too many of those programs are fragmented, short-term, and not well integrated into the curriculum or school structure. Just as we don't expect children to learn a language in a year, we can’t expect children to learn social and emotional skills in one year, either. Indeed- it is a practice. And like every practice, it’s about process and determination. Emotional intelligence is a skill that a child develops over time as they interact with you and the world.
Schools are beginning to use SEL in classroom settings, still; parents and caregivers are in the best position to teach and enhance a child's EI. SEL programs work best when parents and teachers become partners, which means schools need to educate both parents and teachers in ways to promote behavior that improves communication, empathy, self-awareness, decision-making, and problem-solving.
Here are some suggestions for how to develop EI in your child (and you).
  1. Take a deep breath. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath, feel it in your belly for a count of 4. Breathe out through your nose for a count of 4, and then hold that for a count of 4. This is 16 seconds and the result is astounding. This ‘pattern interrupt’ is all you need to respond rather than react.
  2. Accurately name your own emotions. Children learn by watching. The first rule I learned in my Cultural Anthropology degree was: Observation - Imitation.  If you're sad and crying, or angry, take some time to name those emotions out loud with your child so they can learn to identify what you're feeling, and in turn will be more comfortable in identifying their feelings.
  3. Use a rich vocabulary. Emotions aren't just "happy" or "sad." Sometimes, emotions are complicated and layered (i.e. we can feel bittersweet about saying goodbye to a terminally ill pet). A rich vocabulary of feeling words can help unfold the complexity of the emotions. Use many different words to describe feelings, so your child can listen and learn. You could ask your child to also notice where feelings live in their body. This helps them connect to their body so they notice the feeling when their body gives them the signal. (i.e. When I feel frustrated my jaw tightens, I get a lump in my throat when I feel sad, etc.)
  4. Validate your child's feelings. If your child is having a meltdown, take some time to acknowledge their feelings, even if you don't give in to them. Instead of ignoring a tantrum, you can say, "I know how frustrated you are that we can't go to the park right now, and it's completely reasonable to feel that way."
  5. Teach empathy. Talk about compassion and empathy for others' feelings, and model it yourself in your interactions with others. Remember: Observation - Imitation.
  6. Appreciate different points of view. If your child comes home from school feeling angry or sad with a friend about a disagreement, take the time to talk through the conflict and help your child understand their friend's different point of view.
  7. Model effective communication.  Use effective (and age appropriate) communication as you navigate your own relationships. Remember: your child is observing you, to then imitate you. Yelling at your partner and storming out of the house won't do it. Instead, use feeling phrases, an “I statement’, like, "I feel angry with you, and worry about the consequences for our family when you don't follow through with paying the electricity bill like you said you would." 
‘I statements’ are a wonderful tool to engage in healthy conflict resolution and open dialogue. Create a sign that reads: I feel _____ when you _____. Affix it somewhere in your home, and refer your child to the sign when needed. For more ideas, check out this website.
With these useful tools, children can start to practice mindfulness and develop their EI. When they recognize the signals, they can help balance these feelings by identifying the root and reversing the stress response to feel calmer and becoming emotionally intelligent.
Now, could you imagine an amazing world to live in, where children become the kind of adults who take responsibility for balancing their emotions, as opposed to using alcohol, food, addictions or blaming others?

 This is about a whole new vision of education that believes educating our hearts (emotions) is as important as educating our heads.
NB- There are footnotes in the original that didn't follow the article when copied into my blog.
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1 comment:

dpirsm said...

good read...
are you a teacher?