Using Your Head and Your Heart
Intellectual ability is not enough to assure success in school or in life. In fact, in some cases, children with superior cognitive skills do not live up to their promise because they do not also possess solid emotional intelligence. They are out of synch with themselves and with others; they can't read between social and emotional lines. They are not good at cooperating or at preventing and resolving conflicts.
Educators and parents can't afford to overlook children's insight and people skills. We should be guiding them (empathetically!) to use their heads and their hearts every day. Even if your child's innate temperament does not automatically lend itself to persistence, optimism, delayed gratification for goals, and empathy, you can guide her in that direction.
- Start early. Ideally, all this begins very early in life with the family. When you are emotionally attuned to your young child, you provide a model for empathy while also giving her a wonderful sense of feeling understood and valued.
- Be understanding, but set limits. It's impractical and unwise to routinely defer to all of your child's wishes. What's more important is communicating an understanding and respect for his feelings. Harsh discipline and/or indifference to your little one's feelings can have a negative effect on the development of his emotional intelligence.
- Be a role model. Your child learns a great deal from watching the way you handle your feelings and your interactions with others.
- Cheer her on. Babies and young children who enjoy a large dose of approval and encouragement from important adults are most likely to expect to succeed, and therefore endure the rough spots of life with more grace and optimism. As your child grows, act as her emotional coach. When she is upset, disappointed, etc., take her feelings seriously. Try to understand what is causing the upset, and help her find good ways to soothe herself. Guide her toward problem-solving — appropriate alternatives to fighting or withdrawing.
- Scout his talent. A vital ingredient in all of this is getting to know and understand not only your child's temperament, but also his passions. Helping him find and cultivate his natural gifts is an invaluable contribution, as is encouraging curiosity and the pleasure of learning.
- Help her make and keep friends. Gently, never critically, guide your child in her interactions with peers. Teach her how to handle stress, manage her own feelings, and consider what others may be feeling.
In a few schools across the country, there are actually "emotional literacy" classes. Even more helpful, though, may be imbuing every interpersonal situation with such lessons. Try to turn crisis moments into lessons in emotional intelligence. Ideally, each learning experience will allow your child a small reach — not too far and not so easy that it is boring. If you can help him find the "just-right" challenges in learning and encourage his emotional astuteness, academic achievement and later-life success is very likely to follow.