Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That we need a culture shift, and we need one fast?! Indeed, at times like this – shooting after shooting after shooting – we find ourselves crying out “not one more!” and grasping for understanding, for a sense of control, and for a way to effectively channel our fear into something helpful, productive, and meaningful.
I sure am. I am a parent who wants to send my daughter to school without fear. I am a professor who wants to go to work without fear. I am a citizen who wants to travel in this vast glorious land without fear—it’s summer break, after all, and I’ve got travel plans.
And I’ve got some ideas too (did I mention that I was a professor?), about what needs to happen in order to shift our culture away from fear and towards care. Many folks are clamoring for change by putting pressure on the politicos of the day and this does need to happen. But that’s not all that needs to happen, in order for our culture to shift closer to that safe-haven ideal we Americans are promised in our constitution: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and all that.
Rather, I am joining the ranks of another set of change agents clamoring for a different kind of reform: reform in education and child rearing, where emotional intelligence is valued just as much as scholastic intelligence. (e.g., see Mark Manson’s post “How we all miss the point on school shootings”).
Emotional Intelligence goes by many monikers: “soft skills,” and “non-cognitive skills” have gotten some attention of late. The concept itself encompasses an array of psychological abilities including emotion regulation (i.e., controlling yourself) and importantly perspective taking & empathy (i.e., “feeling someone else’s pain). Emotion regulation, perspective taking, and empathy are learned skills that develop gradually throughout childhood.
Deliberate and masterful interleaving of nature and nurture yields emotional intelligence. It’s not something you have or don’t have – it’s something you learn (or don’t learn). Whereas neurological development constrains progress at certain developmental time points, socialization practices are the key to promoting growth in emotional intelligence.
And promoting EQ is something that’s actually pretty easy to do! Easy, that is, if you know how. Because EQ isn’t just one thing, there isn’t just one way to promote it. Rather, an astute teacher (or parent, caregiver, babysitter, big sibling – you name it! Many folks are socializing agents who can make a difference in a child’s life!) who pays attention to the elements of the EQ-equation will ultimately help boost EQ-positive behaviors. Here are some examples of things you can do to help youth right away:
- Boost “working memory capacity”
- Play Simon Says or other “rule switching” games that require youth to keep multiple rules and behaviors in mind at once
- Play “what’s in Johnny’s Pocket” or “I’m Going to Paris”- games that challenge you to keep a large set of information in mind and available for consideration
- Challenge digit-span by memorizing more and more of “pi”
2. Boost emotional vocabulary & scripting
- Increase youths’ vocabulary for emotional experiences and other internal states
- Help youth (in age-appropriate ways) to match appropriate emotional reactions to situations
- People watch and guess at other’s emotions, stating why you guess what you did
- Play “guess my emotion” by making faces and asking youth in your charge to guess what it is.
3. Encourage emotional self-awareness
- At various times throughout the day, ask the youth in your charge to pause, state how they feel, and comment on why
- Encourage age-appropriate journaling at the end of each day
- Engage in “gratitude” discussions, focusing on the positive.
- Help youth think of ways to change their emotions when they are feeling a negative emotion
- Help youth think of ways to moderate their emotions when they are elated but need to control themselves
4. Encourage social awareness
- Challenge youth in your charge to think about how their actions can make others feel happy, sad, excited, and so on
5. Give kids time to play with other kids
- I’ve written extensively about the value of play, for more, see here, here, and here.Kids of any age will benefit from attention to these 5 elements of EQ. Heck, many adults will too! As I deliberately think about how to nurture my daughter’s growth, I can’t help but reflect on my own behavior as I do so. Teaching is like that: we learn from teaching too. You don’t have to do all of this every day. But if you make doing some of this a regular part of your interactions with youth in your charge, in time you will see growth. And on that note, indulge me for a moment, and just imagine a culture where EQ were valued equally alongside IQ. A cultural shift away from fear and towards care would surely happen. It doesn’t take a political landslide to get this started though – it can start in your home, today. What do you say? Are you with me?