Friday, July 17, 2020

Friday Feature: Developing Children's Emotional Intelligence

I spent a substantial chunk of my day yesterday discussing and preparing for the fall semester. Across the nation, parents, teachers, and administrators are trying to envision what fall will look like. While health concerns are paramount (in my mind anyway), so too are the social and emotional needs of students, whether they are nine or nineteen. 

A few weeks ago, it was widely reported that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children return to school, a stance that generated a lot of emotion on both sides of the argument. The AAP's most recent advice is a bit more nuanced, recognizing that children will not be the only occupants of those buildings. While the risk to children is low, the risk to the adults who work with them is substantially more significant.

Disruption to education is a big deal, in large part because school offers more than just academics. The social and emotional connections children make in and out of the classroom contribute to their development, helping them learn to navigate conflicts, develop friendships, and discover new things about the world around them. Through this process, they develop not only social skills, but emotional intelligence as well.

But there is no classroom requirement, no test requiring a #2 pencil, and no textbook needed to teach emotional intelligence. As our children adjust to the disruptions in their lives, it's possible to help them navigate these disruptions through conversation, validation, and acknowledging imperfection as something that happens to the best of us. In her Huffington Post article (9 Everyday Things to do to Raise Emotionally Intelligent Kids), Caroline Bologna outlines the simple ways we can help our children cope, whether school is in session or not. Her suggestions took me back to my days in elementary school classrooms, creating a feelings alphabet with second graders to expand their vocabulary, role playing with upper elementary students to help them negotiate conflicts, and reading stories as a springboard to discussions about our emotions and how we handle them. 

In times of uncertainty, feelings can seem frivolous. But feelings are what make us human and acknowledging them is the first step in coping with them. If we can teach our children how to respond to disrupted schedules, the disappointment of a school year that wasn't, and the idea that feeling safe is arguably the most important feeling of all, we teach them strength, resilience and, yes, emotional intelligence. 

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