In school, our children are focused on learning facts, how to do math, and how to write. This type of intelligence helps propel them forward in school, earning high grades and college acceptances. But…what if IQ alone isn’t enough to make your child successful in life?
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the awareness of one’s feelings and the feelings of others. It is the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions and utilize this knowledge to connect with others. Empathy is a central element in EQ.
In the 2017 Highlights State of the Kid™ survey, Highlights asked 2,000 kids ages 6 to 12 what it means to “put yourself in another person’s shoes,” and 67 percent of responders understood the idea of empathy (with only 14 percent, higher among younger kids, responding that they did not know). This is promising news! So, as adults, how do we continue to encourage empathy in our children?
Parents and other trusted adults are the main sources of information in a child’s life. We are the role models, and as such we can start the empathy conversation by displaying an awareness of our own feelings. Children are not born with an innate ability to name a feeling and connect that to an action or experience. But we can help teach them. When rushing to work in the morning, let your child know, “I am worried about getting to work on time, and I am sad that we don’t have time to play a little longer.” When we make a mistake, like forgetting something at the store, we can tell our child, “I am mad at myself for forgetting the milk at the store, and I am frustrated that we will have to go back.” This allows your child to recognize feelings and the situations that cause them, the first step in building empathy.
You can also start a dialogue when you see your child having a feeling. For example, “It seems that you are feeling sad/mad/frustrated. Am I right?” Starting the conversation about your child’s feelings provides an opportunity to validate his experience and can lead to brainstorming possible solutions and/or coping skills. Identify. Validate. Implement skills. Let your child know that a feeling is never wrong. Though once we are able to identify it, we can then choose how to move forward. Do we need to take an action? Do we need a distraction? Helping your child identify what he may need in response to his feelings can make a situation seem more manageable.
We don’t always have to be focused on the less favorable emotions either. We can ask our children how it felt when they earned a special award in class or when a friend asked them for a playdate. Encourage recognition of feelings such as pride, happiness, and contentment.
The next step is connecting this knowledge with respect of feelings toward others. A great way to start is by sitting with your child as she watches a movie or a television show. Talk to her about how a character may be feeling, why she might be feeling that way, and what might help her in the moment. Using real-life examples is also a perfect way to teach children how to observe others in a nonjudgmental and open way.
Creating a loving and safe environment for your children will allow them the space to explore their emotional process and in the end, be better equipped to connect and respond emotionally with others.
Sasha L. Ribic, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in Columbus, Ohio. She provides psychotherapy for children, adolescents, and adults, and provides varied psychoeducational programs and parenting seminars within Central Ohio....
A friend remembers her mother trying to teach her and her sibling good manners at the breakfast table when they were young. “What’s the magic word?” their mother asked before sliding pancakes on their plates. The younger sister thought and then answered triumphantly, “Bippity-boppity-boo!”
Well, that was then and this is now. As challenging as it’s always been to teach children to be courteous, many parents think it’s much more difficult today.
In the current climate world, rudeness often reigns. Cyberbullying is all too common. Television reality shows depict backstabbing behaviors and bickering. Politicians—even some of those running for the highest office in our land—hurl insults. Kids observe road rage, toxic interactions on playing fields and in sports arenas—and even in their own homes. (OK—who hasn’t slammed a door or otherwise shown a regrettable lack of restraint or decorum in front of our children at least once?)
An overwhelming majority of Americans across all generations believe that lack of civility is a major societal problem today. And most of us think the problem is only going to worsen, because kids need to see civility modeled in order to learn it and that’s increasingly a tall order. Parents have to work harder than ever, it seems, to teach kids what they need to live peacefully with one another—things like self-awareness and self-control, empathy, an understanding of the importance of thinking not just about ourselves but also about the common good.
Where to begin? Here are a few suggestions.
- When your children witness or observe incivility, don’t miss the opportunity to talk with them about it. Explain why what was said was inappropriate. Encourage them to put themselves in the shoes of the recipient of the mean-spirited words or behavior. Teaching them how to look at the situation through the lens of the other person is one good way to teach empathy.
- Monitor your kids’ media consumption, and balance the incivility they may be seeing in news, TV shows, movies, and video games with good literature. The world is full of excellent books featuring characters who are worthy of emulating. Even fictional characters can model how to treat others with dignity. Don’t underestimate the power of literature to teach your children how to live life well!
- And try to avoid becoming desensitized to incivility. Speak up when you or your children experience or witness it. Sometimes a small incident can teach a big lesson. When some teenagers intentionally cut in front of younger children lined up for a ride at a local fair, an adult spoke to the kids, pointing out that their behavior was rude and asking them to move to the end of the line. The chagrined kids did so, to the murmurs of approval from onlookers. Another mom I know once asked two customers in a reception room to bear in mind that children were present, listening to their conversation, which was peppered with inappropriate language.
Let’s refuse to view mudslinging and name-calling as accepted (and expected) political rhetoric. Write letters to these politicians and public servants. Sign petitions. Use the power of your vote to communicate your disapproval. After all, our children are watching and listening.
Christine French Cully is Chief Purpose Officer and Editor in Chief at Highlights for Children. As Chief Purpose Officer, Cully’s focus is on growing awareness and implementation of the Highlights purpose, core beliefs, and values—to help actualize the organization’s vision for a world where all children can become people who can change the world for the better....