Many will go to great lengths to make sure children are academically prepared for success. The retail world knows this, and so you find flashcards and workbooks everywhere from the Target Dollar Spot to specialty bookstores. And if a child falls behind academically? Well then, bucket loads of support are available for the struggling student. Private tutors, manipulatives, specialty classes. Teachers’ and administrators’ jobs, and often school financing, depend on students performing well academically.
But what about measuring and intentionally supporting how kids grow socially and emotionally? Turns out, that oversight could be a big mistake. Not only does emotional intelligence promote academic success, but Emotional IQ stands as a desirable goal on its own.
In fact, Dr. Peter Gray points out that early childhood academic focus serves little long term value. Instead, young children could better use their days growing emotional understanding. Rather than staring at worksheets on their desks, Gray thinks little children should be looking at the people around them. Conversation and connection with families, teachers, and classmates lays the foundations of attachment, wiring young minds for healthy relationships.
Dr. Gray even shares a letter prepared by twenty-seven of thirty-four kindergarten teachers in a particular area of Massachusetts asking their school committee to respond to what they call the “reality gap.” They point to academic pressures contributing to challenges with supporting young children’s self-regulation and creativity.
Helping children develop emotional intelligence can feel heavy. After all, the emotional competence we want them to develop is vast: self-regulation, motivation, empathy, communication, problem-solving, and the list goes on. I know it can seem hard to help young children and adolescents work into these skills. In fact, the desire can be to teach a child not to tantrum, yet before looking at these skills, we need to begin with the understanding that children first need to develop the capacity for self-regulation. And this means starting with co-regulation.
Self-regulation includes being able to express emotions and manage behaviors in healthy ways. It’s not about ‘not feeling.’
There’s no one recipe for shaping an emotionally intelligent child, yet connection and compassion go a long way. As I like to say, there is magic in the ordinary, in the daily expressions of care and moments cherished together. Being and feeling ready.
To help all of us and the children we care for spend times of connection, developing emotional intelligence, I’ve created an array of resources. You can find free downloads to encourage reflection, connection, understanding and dreaming with a child. Also, I’m particularly excited about my loved-and-labored-over picture books that are on their way to press. I’m delighted with these whimsical, reflective stories, and I hope you will be too. The Day the Sky Felt Full and Worry and Me will help you and a child work through heavy emotions experienced at home or school. Take a sneak peek at these special projects and let me know what you think!
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