After my married daughter (who gave birth to my 1st grandchild), decided to return to her teaching job following her one year leave to be with her baby boy in his first year, I chose to be a major part of his life, so I left my home in Florida to return north to be with my daughter and her son. I wanted to make possible any opportunity to love and care for my family especially when I would be so needed. Painful as it was to leave my Florida friends, my practice, and life in paradise, I was excited to be with my daughter and 15 month old grandson. Now, at 23 months, my grandson’s life is intertwined with mine and it is “heaven”!
When talking about emotional intelligence I think of David Wechsler, who developed one of the most widely used intelligence test, now in it’s 5th edition, when he defined intelligence as “the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment” (Wechsler, 1958, p. 7). Intelligence is not just about the cognition (such as memory, verbal intelligence, and complex problem solving), it’s about negotiating life. In doing so, living life with integrity and with love and happiness is an admirable and wonderful goal. What can be more important than happiness, love and integrity?
So what is emotional intelligence? What am I teaching my grandson? At this age (almost 2) social skills are easily taught . Before the child gets into bad habits, why not use a preventative approach and teach the positive behavior skills and influence things like humor, being demonstrative. I began these purposeful lessons as soon as I arrived when he was 15 months. We joined groups like playgroups and tot programs (swim class, gymnastics/movement class, etc). A large part of this instructional journey is to always treat your child / grandchild with the utmost respect and love while not accepting poor behaviors like tantrums and screams. When this behavior occurs, quickly provide the child with an alternative positive behavior. My grandchild began a behavior of screaming when he wanted something or when he was overwhelmed with an activity…so I taught him to just say “please” when he wanted something and “wow” when he was overwhelmed. When he makes a good choice, I shower him with praise and hugs. It was adorable to hear a 15 month old say please and wow multiple times a day! Even now, he sometimes slips back into the scream but I just say “use your words” and he immediately reverts to the please, wow, or some of his new words. Now, I will say that consistency is critical. I address poor behavior immediately and if my grandson cannot make a “good” choice after 3 tries, we have a little time out session where he sits in a quiet spot on my lap (when younger) and in a little chair since age 20 months for 10-20 seconds, so he can re-compensate. If in a public place, we leave the room. I don’t know about you, but most people are annoyed with a boisterous, ill behaved, out-of-control toddler, and they should be, as it is not fair to subject others to your child’s tantrums and inappropriate behavior if you have the power to leave the room. Also, by removing self and child, it can help the child to recover. In a “toddler time out” I usually count to 20 and then ask him to re-join our activity, but if he carries on, he remains until I have a 10 count that is free from acting out. What is so important with young children is that we must “notice” good behavior (do not take it for granted) and address that with positive comments and praise. For example, in my grandson’s movement class, there are periods where they have “circle” activities. When he is cooperative and attentive, I tell him how much I like how he is “sitting”, “listening” doing a “good job” and he gets extra hugs! This, of course, reinforces the behaviors that are socially appropriate and reduces the likelihood that he will act up and possibly get into a contentious situation.
Now, when I worked in the school system and trained teachers and school counselors, I needed to get across the importance of social skills not only for a child’s contentment and success with relationships but due to the research that demonstrates 10 basic social skills that are important in order to be not only successful interpersonally, but with academics. What’s more, many school districts across the country have incorporated actual social skill curriculum for direct instruction in the classroom. According to surveys of 8,000+ teachers and over 20 years of research in U.S. classrooms, Dr. Steve Elliott and Dr. Frank Gresham, authors of one of those instructional programs, found that the social skills that are directly related to academic success were:
1. Listen to others
2. Follow the steps
3. Follow the rules
4. Ignore distractions
5. Ask for help
6. Take turns when you talk
7. Get along with others
8. Stay calm with others
9. Be responsible for your behavior
10. Do nice things for others
But, it must be stated that even before a child gets to pre-school where these skills are often taught, it would be important to insure your child learn and practice these skills much earlier (I began with my grandson as soon as I moved north to help take care of him, when he was 15 months.). In conjunction with these skills we must prioritize the nurturing that is equally important to insure happy, content, secure, confident children who feel loved and cared for. Thus, critical nurturing, positive and responsible parenting and demonstrative love to your child/grandchild is important.. As part of this, caretakers want to build: 1.) a positive self-identity, 2.) sense of competence, 3.) emotional regulation, 4.) the ability to talk about feelings, 5.) help develop empathy through helping your child to understand what it is like to be in another’s “shoes” – role play is valuable for this, 6.) teach your child a sense of community and help them participate in group / community activities as part of a team 7.) help your child discover, developing positive relationships with peers and adults through practice, monitored instructional play dates (teaching things like turn taking and being happy for self and others when experiencing accomplishments, engaging in cooperative play). As the adults, moral development is our responsibility and this includes teaching our child right from wrong, kind from unkind, honesty from dishonesty, etc. Finally, resolving social conflicts can start with teaching turn taking when your child is at a play date and the other child becomes upset that your child has his toy or teaching your child to offer a substitute or accept a substitute toy. These are teaching opportunities that are valuable and offer your child the chance to learn early problem-solving & peaceful negotiation skills.
Components of Emotional Intelligence to develop
Develop Self-awareness in your child. To help him/her tune in to his/her feelings. For example, if you see that your child is enjoying something, ask – are you having fun? Does this “activity” make you smile – be happy. Now, if something occurs that cause your child to cry, say…are you feeling sad. Sometimes we cry when we are sad, What does it feel like? What are you feeling? Be careful not to judge, as that will affect your child’s confidence.
Instill self confidence: When you want your child to learn a new task, praise their practice of the task with each step. Then, let them show you – subsequently praise them…make a big deal! That’s a way to build self efficacy, confidence.
Coach your child to regulate self. Self regulation is a conscious effort to be appropriate/keep in check: Emotions (such as anger) and Activity (such as kinetic and boisterous behavior when one is suppose to be sitting and listening in a classroom) appropriate, in check. This is a tough one especially with an active 2 year old who is just discovering his/her “voice” and learning to master sprinting, jumping, and climbing. Yet, just like anything else, direct instruction (kind of like a show & tell), then modeling the appropriate behavior, then often practicing the behaviors – especially effective when practiced at actual group settings - is tried and true. Using those moments when your child misbehaves or jumps and screams when he/she is suppose to be sitting in a circle activity, are really the best opportunities to begin to reinforce appropriate behaviors. However, children do need to move, jump, run, throw balls, even yell…but they must learn the places these behaviors are acceptable and expected and where they are not appreciated. Then, caretakers need to offer times (I say daily) where your child can be physical, be silly, run, kick / throw a ball, and be loud! If your child has daily opportunities to be joyful, loved, and “blow off steam” he/she will be much more amenable (both in their brain and within their body) to sit still for a period of time (as is age-appropriate). I mentioned Group programs….so for those of you who are on a budget, contact your city and school department as well as the local hospital, for the free programs offered. In our town, there is a “family network” that has many playgroup type opportunities that you can sign up for. They even have a Grandparent’s support group! The local Library has a “Mommy and Me” weekly group portioned off by age group. The local hospital offers “Mommy and Me” opportunities too, including groups for “nursing mothers” and their babies/toddlers. When my children were young, parents would meet at various places and put together impromptu play groups which sometimes would develop into life-long friendships. Regarding self-regulation, as your child becomes older, around age 3 ½-4, you can also teach various things like calm-down techniques (slow 3 part breathing – similar to what is used in meditation), coloring, listening to music with headphones, singing, stepping back to stop and think, etc. Again, your behavior and modeling will reflect in your child. …and practice makes perfect!,
Foster integrity. Emotional Intelligence and good social skills would not be complete without honesty and integrity. This is not easy to teach, but of critical importance to self esteem and helping your child to always do the right thing. Remember that your child will make many mistakes and even tell multiple lies….do NOT judge. When they are coaxed to tell the truth, let them know how proud you are of your child, once they do. Find out why he/she began to lie about “it” and let your child know that you love him/her no matter what, acknowledge that making mistakes is human and that the important thing is to learn from those mistakes. Each time he/she tells the truth (for something that was a negative behavior) or takes responsibility for a “mistake”…make a big deal – praise your child for being honest and taking responsibility ..and then, manage the situation relative to the “mistake” (will your child need a time out, a consequence, a “talking to”)…you decide what fits the negative behavior but continue to praise and talk to other family members about how proud you are that your child is such an honest person and how he/she tries to do their best…then “brag” about their other strengths (they are funny, loving, a good friend, a good listener, fun, honest, creative, care about other kids/grown-ups, good at ---, and how you love to be around him/her and enjoy practicing being better and better together. Whatever you do, follow through. That being said, be careful when using consequences that it is something small enough that it is not earth shattering when you have to take it away. I am not a big fan of consequences if instead, I can prevent negative behaviors by reinforcing with positives like praises, special time together when your child achieves something positive, such as accomplishing all his/her morning tasks (brush teeth, wash hands, put toys away, etc) with a smile. But, sometimes, consequences are unavoidable so please remember not to make idle threats or take away a privilege that your child already earned or an event that is a game changer. For example, a field trip is coming up at school and your child is so excited about it (for 2 months). At home the evening before the field trip, your child misbehaves and you warn him once, twice, three times to stop – on the third warning you say – if you continue this behavior, you will not be able to go on the field trip tomorrow. Parent/grandparent/caretaker…that is not fair! The field trip is not related to what is going on at home. Also, that kind of consequence can create a defeated attitude in your child (even insecurity and cause him/her to question how you could care about him/her and do that!). To take away something that is so big for misbehavior at home that you can manage and deliver an appropriate home consequence for, is not advised. Be careful you are not catching a fly with a crate instead of a net.
Motivation: Even with young toddlers, you can build motivation by setting small goals and helping them to reach them….step by step. Make it an attainable goal. For example, I take my grandson to swimming and I am trying to teach him to swim to the edge of the pool and grab “reach and scoop” with his hands while kicking his feet. I will place a tub toy at the edge. Then – we start out 6 inches so he only has to reach and scoop once with each hand and he reaches the toy. When he accomplishes that, we cheer together…he is developing internal motivation by doing that…internalizing the excitement that he reached the 1st goal…he feels that sense of accomplishment. After practicing at 6 inches,…we move out to 12, then 18…making each success as special as the original. Motivation is made up of: Achievement drive. Your constant striving to improve or to meet a standard of excellence. From this, your child will develop initiative and drive and will not need to be rewarded because he has learned self monitoring and internalized his own reward system – the feeling and excitement of accomplishments. All of this instills optimism and resilience, Your child will learn persistence and will naturally seek positive goals throughout his development even when faced with setbacks or obstacles.
To me, one of the most important social/human skills is Empathy! It is learning how to understand and even “feel” as best one can, what it is like to be in the other’s shoes. Even as adults, this is something that we should continuously practice, especially when having a difference of opinion with another. It helps to try a see the other person’s perspective…understand where they are coming from and why. So empathy is the ability to recognize how people feel. I am regularly doing check ins with my grandson – like if we are in a group activity with peers and another child begins to cry, I put words to it…”---“ is sad…and ask my grandson “Why do you think she is sad …she’s crying. Why is she crying?...she dropped her toy and that makes her sad. When do you get sad? Then as the role model/teacher, you can provide examples especially if your child is not yet talking or they have a limited vocabulary. An empathetic person excels at many things in life, but especially relationships, which help in all aspects when negotiating one’s world.
Finally, the development of good interpersonal skills and social competence is key to life success. “People Skills” are even more important now because you must possess these skills to better understand, empathize and negotiate with others. Among some very useful skills are:
- Thoughtful toward others
- The ability to be a team player, cooperate, share, collaborate
- Being influential and even inspirational
- Having strong communication skills
- Knowing how to build & nurture relationships
- Do all that one does with integrity (honesty, doing one’s best work, being true to oneself & others)
1. “Develop your child’s unique strengths and his/her skills so he/she can feel good about himself.
2. Also when something happens or if someone is negative toward your child, breakdown the problem and use a problem solving model (PSM) for some possible solutions. It will involve helping your child to interpret the situation with a positive spin so they can be constructive in their thoughts.
3. Appreciate what they do. Show that you really mean it by sharing their abilities with your friends.
4. Provide regular Self--esteem building. This will get your child to a place that where he/she believes that his/her abilities to make a positive difference, to confront rather than retreat from challenges, to learn from both success and failure and to treat themselves and others with respect.
The picture above is a picture of my parents when they first became grandparents. I want to dedicate this article to them as they taught me how to be emotional intelligent and to strive to b a person with integrity.
My next article will be a Part II on this subject especially geared to older children. Author: Diana Yvonne
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