The 21st century will be a time of many overlapping crises. The ability to maintain some level of emotional stability in the midst of this will be vital, and it’s a skill that can (and ideally, should!) be learnt from a young age. CEM supporter Antje Timmerman writes about her approach with her young children, with further reading for those who are interested in going deeper. Thanks Antje for taking the time to share your thoughts.
When my children turned from babies into toddlers, entering their “Terrible Twos” , I remembered how I read the book “EQ” by Daniel Goleman at university. I found his approach to learning emotional intelligence fascinating then and have come to find it a real life saver when dealing with the kids as they learn to manage their own behaviour and the relationships with their friends and the adults around them.
Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. It is the ability to recognize and label your own emotions. It means to understand the physical effects that emotions have on you and connect them to a certain feeling and maybe even identify a trigger for it.
As my children calm down after a tantrum, cuddling, I usually label emotions for them (Your sister took your toy train from you without asking – did that make you angry?)
Once you have a clear understanding of what is happening with your body through emotions such as fear, anticipation, surprise, anger, sadness or anger, the next step is to control and regulate your behaviour. This does not mean to suppress the emotions, but to consciously influence the way we react to them.
When my children feel angry we have a simple rule. I will never scold them for being angry, but they must not damage anything or hurt anyone. We talk about alternative ways in which they are allowed to express their anger – shout, stamp their feet or throw themselves on the sofa. As they grows older, we’ll work our way through more subtle ways of expressing anger, like counting to ten or breathing deeply.
Up until now – these two aspects were all that I worried about for the two of them at pre-school age. Now at age five my older son is only just starting to ask more difficult and complex questions – and the thought of explaining to him about climate change makes me nervous. Again I find myself applying this model (also for myself!) in speaking to him when we discuss deep questions and worries.
The words “emotion” and “motivation” are closely connected. Both stem from the latin root “movere” – to move. Emotions can be strong drivers to help us reach our goals if we use them in a regulated and controlled way. Keeping active and addressing the issues that cause fear and anger help to create hope and optimism.
Climate Change is a huge challenge for the whole planet. As an individual it is easy to become completely overwhelmed by the consequences of it, that the future will hold for us and our children.
The “Motivation” aspect teaches us to use our own emotions to be active and do the things we can do. This helps to reduce our own negative feelings and give an example and hope to others around us.
The first three aspects dealt with our own emotions. Empathy is about understanding the emotions of other people, identifying the way they feel and maybe also why they feel that way.
Watching my children I am fascinated how they could from a very young age react in a loving and caring way when another child is hurt, when they themselves are detached from the situation. Once they the children themselves have an interest in a toy or sweet that they are fighting over, it is much harder for them to put themselves into the other child’s shoes. I guess the very same thing is true for adults. If we want to learn empathy we would need to (temporarily) blend out our own needs and emotions and truly listen to the other person(s).
5. Social Skills
If empathy correlates with self-awareness, then social skills correlate with self-regulation. After recognizing and understanding the emotions of other people, this skill is about reacting appropriately. If we take all the things from above into account, we see that social skills are an extremely complex balancing act to do justice to one’s own and to the other person’s need.
As a parent I see my task as putting my children on the way to learn these skills as I learn along with them.
Further Reading: Daniel Goleman “Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ”
Antje Timmermann is a mother of two children and founded the Deutsche Centre, a German language and culture centre. She is originally from Germany, and made Manchester her new home in 2012. Antje is a member of the Green Party.