“ME and my brother are very emotionally compatible,” my seven-year-old girl announced the other day.“How do you figure that? I asked, thinking about the fact that I seem to spend half my weekends breaking up their squabbles.
“I know this, I have emotional intelligence,” she said. “And we both yawn at the same time,” she added, as if that totally clinched the argument.
My girl has obviously picked up some of the language floating around modern child rearing. These days the importance of “emotional intelligence”, along with other concepts such as “resilience”, is in fashion across the packed shelves of self-help books intended to assist parents, as one recent text puts it, “build better children”.
Now, I have to admit I’ve never been big on embracing trends in child rearing. I tend to rely on tried and true over innovative and new. Still, I have to admit this emotional intelligence thing has something in it.
Teaching children how to express their emotions, deal with their feelings in positive and constructive ways, and understand the emotions and needs of others, strikes me as something that can only help them later in life.
The concept of emotional intelligence is all about understanding others’ viewpoints and feelings as well as being able to control your emotions – most people know that, right?
Not everyone. How many very smart people have you met who have really no idea how to relate to others and whose careers and lives have suffered because of this?
Having grown up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I’m familiar with the old dictum that children should be ‘‘seen and not heard”. Boys, in particular, seemed to suffer because of a cultural constipation preventing them from expressing their emotions.
Today we are dealing with the consequences of the lack of emotional intelligence in new forms including cyberbullying. With new generations focusing on the screen more and more on electronic devices and social media, I wonder whether our social skills are becoming even more stilted.
After all, Twitter and Facebook really aren’t places characterised by subtlety and sensitivity.
So, maybe a focus on emotional intelligence really is something that does need a big focus in modern child rearing, family life and in our national curriculum.
If more young people learnt to recognise and control their feelings, we could see a reduction in violence and binge drinking – problems often fuelled by poor impulse control or a desire to mask anxiety.
Teaching children to read others’ moods – recognising that a terse word or an unpleasant look might mean someone is having a bad day rather than being hostile – might also reduce conflict. Equipping kids with those emotional intelligence skills will help them have good relationships, and can only be a good thing.