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Developing Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

One of the roles that both parents and teachers share is the development of your child’s emotional intelligence.

We all like to think our children are academically ‘on-track’ and perhaps yours does show an early affinity for numbers or is reading at a Grade 5 level while still in Grade 2, but are they also emotionally intelligent?  Will they take it in their stride when they disagree with their peers about a group task or will they stage a nuclear meltdown right there in the classroom?

Being able to control impulses, delay gratification, and identify and manage feelings are all skills that fall under the category of “emotional intelligence.”  On watching children interact during play or when working together we get a feel for how well they interact with others, wait their turn or just elbow their way past someone else.
Emotional intelligence is all about being able to relate to others, respond to their feelings and cues, and negotiate conflict.  Some social skills are specifically identifiable, others are more general; either way, there’s no question that mastering them will ensure that your child has friends to play with and a better than average chance at doing well in school.  Studies in this area highlight three such skills you can help your child develop.

Skill #1: How To Be a Joiner
Picture this: A game of soccer is in progress, and your child is standing on the sidelines unsure about how he can get involved in the action. Knowing how to join an activity or a pre-existing group is a skill that requires a bit of finesse. “For a child, this means being assertive enough to ask to play and being diplomatic enough to not barge in and take over the game,” says Erika Rich, a child psychologist.  It also includes being able to take no for an answer.  “Even socially skilled children are told no when they ask to join in about 50 percent of the time,” Rich says. “Figuring out how to brush it off and find something else to do is a valuable skill.”

If you sense that your child is hanging back, help them learn how to join in the action. A good place to start is at a gathering where the stakes are considerably lower than at the pressure-laden school playground.  Try a family party or church social, for example. Once your child spots a game or activity he wishes to join, Rich suggests encouraging him to follow these steps:

Watch— to see who is playing and whether they know the rules.
Wait— for a break in the action.
Ask— “Can I play?” or suggest a fun idea that adds to the game.

With practice, your child should eventually feel more comfortable in their approach—and in dealing with being told no sometimes.

Skill #2: How To Be a Good Loser
Once your child has joined a group or game, they’ll wear out their welcome fast if they don’t know how to win modestly or lose gracefully.  This draws on at least one or two skills that are often emphasized from a very young age: taking turns and sharing. Your child also needs to be able to communicate what they are thinking and feeling as well as listen to what others are thinking and feeling, says Judith Wagner, a professor of child development and education.  Your child won’t gain anything standing out on the playing field arguing that the ball ‘crossed the line’ without listening to what others saw from a better vantage point.

Wagner recommends that if you haven’t cheerfully “lost” a board game to your child on purpose, take the next opportunity to do so. It’s an excellent way to model good loser behaviour.  How you listen and react to your child’s perceived injustices on the playground can also influence his behaviour in win-lose situations.  Children often mull over, with their parents, the social problems they dealt with that day at school, Wagner says, “They quickly learn that they’re likely to capture their parents’ attention by recounting who hurt their feelings or made them feel left out or unappreciated. While it’s important to validate a child’s feelings, it’s better to promote self-reliance by asking, ‘How will you handle it tomorrow if the same girls won’t let you play netball with them?’” In other words, help your child think of appropriate coping mechanisms. She might just come to the conclusion that storming off in a huff or throwing down the ball in frustration and crying “I don’t want to play anymore!” is not necessarily the best way to handle things.

Skill #3: How To Be a Savvy Negotiator
Being able to negotiate ideas is an important skill.  Not only does your child need to communicate their ideas effectively; they also need to truly listen to their peers’ ideas before making a final decision. For example, why is his suggestion for a group work idea any more compelling than another student’s?  Saying, “Because I think tarantulas are cool!” simply doesn’t provide enough information.  Meanwhile, another classmate’s more detailed argument about why a chameleon is the better choice could sway the popular vote, and if your child keeps an open mind, he may even agree.

Parents can sharpen their children’s negotiation skills through everyday play situations.  Act like a child and really care about whose turn it is or who gets to have the red or blue marker.  Announce that you don’t want to be “it” first during the next game of tag, and argue the point if need be. Once children practise negotiating in a safe environment with a trusted adult, Rich says, they will be able to do it more easily when the stakes are higher.  Rich also suggests having regular family dinners free of electronic distractions like cell phones or computers to continue developing appropriate conversation skills in children.

I hope this assists, even if in some small way, the continuing development of your child’s emotional intelligence.

Kind Regards
Mr Tony Williams
Primary School Principal