We are pushing our children to learn earlier and earlier, to get into the “best” preschools, get the highest grades so they can get into the most prestigious colleges, but are we teaching them how to be better human beings? Or are we teaching them to be human “doings?”
Being a success if life, has to mean more than getting into an Ivy League college and making a lot of money. Most happy people in life aren’t rich, or haven’t even gone to college. The happiest and most successful people are those that understand themselves, that find meaning and purpose in their lives and have strong connections with other people.
What is this ability to connect with others and understand ourselves? It is Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional intelligence describes our ability to understand our own feelings. Our feelings and our emotions influence how we behave and the choices we make. The term Emotional Intelligence was first introduced in 1985 by Wayne Payne. Then in 1996, Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, popularized the concept with the success of his book, Emotional Intelligence- Why it Can Matter More than IQ. He studied successful leaders and found that most of the great ones, have the ability to get along with others, be persuasive and above all have empathy and understanding, and most of them weren’t in the top of their class.
In the book, Goleman explains that the way me manage our emotions as well as the way we recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others plays a big part in how successful we are in life.
When we send our children off to school, many of us don’t spend enough time talking to them about their feelings and how the behavior of others may affect them. As good parents and educators, we are tasked with teaching them to read, write, learn about math and history, but too often, the emotional stuff gets ignored. Everyone is too busy to stop and have meaningful conversations. And today, with all the access to social media and problems like bullying, it is more important than ever to talk about things like feelings, emotions and frustration.
To help your student become more resilient, strengthen their mental and emotional wellness and learn how to handle what comes their way at school or on line, here are five tools to introduce to them and open up a dialogue:
Being positive is a trait that can be cultivated. Maintaining a positive outlook is something that can be taught. Our brains are hardwired for negativity, to keep us safe, so when we teach children and teens to notice their thoughts, and to question them, we are giving them the power to change their view from negative to positive.
Set simple goals. When students have achievable goals, and a sense of purpose, they will be less likely to be taken out by the daily dramas that go on at school. Teach your student to create reasonable goals, and pay attention to their own plan, no matter what anybody else is doing.
Stay Calm. Help your student take the pressure off and calm themselves. The worst thing we can do to our children or teens is to put extra pressure on them to get good grades, to participate in sports, clubs and so many activities that they are overwhelmed. Yes, it is important for them to try their best in their academics, and to participate in activities that appeal to them, but today, our children our over-scheduled and highly pressured to succeed. This is creating undo stress on our youth. Help them learn to balance their school work, sports or other activities, with real downtime. Teach them to take a few deep breaths if they get upset, and how to take breaks and relax so that doing well becomes fun and natural.
Let it go. Children, teens as well as adults can all benefit from learning to let things go. We all take life way to seriously, and this adds pressure none of us need. This is easier said than done, but we can teach our children what many psychologists teach; when people say unkind things, make comments and judgments, it has nothing to do with us-but has to do with the way they feel about themselves. Of course, if a concerned teacher, counselor or parent, sees the need to help a student with a particular issue, we can explain to them that a trusted adult may be able to see a problem or issue they aren’t aware of. However, the kinds of thoughtless comments and sarcastic barbs that kids often say aren’t worth another thought. Teaching your student not to take things personally is one of the most important lessons you can help them with.
Everything in life is perspective. Teaching your child that they have the power to change their thoughts, control their awareness and learn to focus is life changing. When you show them to be in control on their own minds, they will be less likely to be bullied, to be reactive, or to feel pressured at school. When your student learns that we all bring a different perspective to the group, and to be tolerant of that perspective, we are teaching them to be courteous, open and understanding.
Connecting with other humans in a conscious, polite and caring way is becoming lost today. Blame it on technology, smart phones, tablets, computers, radio and television. Blame it on politicians, self-centered celebrities and out of control professional athletes. Whatever is causing the loss of civility in our society, we need to better role models for our children. We can bring civility and dignity back.
Following are basic skills that gracious leaders practice and when taught to our children can give them the keys they need for a happy life:
Look people in the eye. When you first meet someone, look them in the eye, shake their hand and say, “It is nice to meet you.” There is no greater gift you can give another person than to make them feel seen.
Welcome new students into your school. Be the first to walk up and introduce yourself. Invite them to sit with you at lunch, or play at recess or to study together after school.
Be a good listener. When someone is speaking to you or in a group, listen intently. Do not interrupt. Show them you are listening by making eye contact, and nodding.
Be humble. If you get the best grade, make the team, get the highest score, do not brag. No one likes a braggart and it makes others feel badly about themselves. Just do the best you can and let your reputation speak for itself.
Be appreciative. If someone does something for you, or gives you a compliment or gift, say thank you. If it is something that took a lot of thought, write them a hand written thank you note. Stop and think of the effort the other person took to do something for you.
Practice empathy. Learning to put yourself into the other person’s place is one of the most important skills you can learn in your lifetime. When you try to understand how they might be feeling, you may see what caused them to do or say something that you might have been upset about. Being more understanding can soothe upset feelings or even prevent problems from occurring.
Encourage your family members to sit around the dinner table and have a discussion about what real success is. Studies prove that children who eat dinner with their families do better in school. Think of the precious time you are wasting if you are not having face to face time with your kids at meal time, without the distractions of technology. What’s the point of putting too all this pressure on ourselves and our children if we aren’t raising conscious, caring human beings?