By Susan Dunn
It happened in a split second. The kids were playing in the backyard and I looked out the window to see Adam pin Phillip to the ground. Unable to use his legs or arms, and being pummeled, Phillip did what any sensible 4 year old would do. He bit Adam on the shoulder. (And out I ran!)
We're born knowing how to be aggressive. It's the 'getting along' we need to learn. And those years which we aptly call "the formative years" are just the time to do this.
"Young children aren't getting what they need to help them safely handle anger and aggression," says Carla Garrity, Ph.D., child psychologist, "and the [preschool years] are a crucial time for those life lessons."
We call those life lessons, Emotional Intelligence!
According to a SesameWorkshop.org, "By the time boys and girls are in kindergarten, bullying and teasing are a part of their daily school life. According to a 1997 study by the EEC and Wellesley, boys initiate the most teasing, though both boys and girls are targets. The biggest complaint from young victims, other than the bullying itself, was that adults failed to notice and intervene. With no adult telling them to stop, aggressive children hone their skills until bullying becomes part of their personality."
How will your child learn the cluster of crucial life skills we call Emotional Intelligence? Studies show it's many times more important to our happiness, success and health than our IQ, and yet it's not taught.
Well, it's not taught formally. I maintain you can't NOT teach it. Every interaction you have with your child is a lesson in EQ. So why not learn how to teach it right?
Here are a few tips from "Develop Your Child's EQ: A Practical How-to Guide."
1. Take the EQ-Map® (http://www.essisystems.com/) and find out your own level of emotional intelligence. Then work with a certified EQ coach to get yourself up-to-speed. Then you'll be teaching the right things.
2. Read about the Marshmallow Test (Goleman, Ph.D.) - http://www.susandunn.cc/child's_emotional_intelligence.htm . When administered to a 4 year old, it's a solid predictor of future success and happiness.
3. Start reading to your child from the Children's EQ Reading List (art, poetry, photography, myths)
4. Check out some toys which will develop EQ: http://www.susandunn.cc/child's_emotional_intelligence.htm including band-in-a-Box, the Learn EQ One-Day-at-a-Time Picture Calendar for Children, Brainy baby Videos, Children of the World Sewing Cards, Language Discovery Flash Cards, "First 1000 Words in Russian (or German, French, Spanish, Japanese or Italian)," and The Gardening With EQ Kit.
5. Keep in mind it's the play around the toy that makes it EQ, not the toy itself.
Empathy is one EQ competency you can start with. This means guiding your child to the realization that others have feelings, just as he or she does.
For very little ones, work with concrete behaviors and actions. If your son reaches up to bop you one, gently take his curled fist, open the fingers, and stroke his open palm against your cheek, making soothing noises. This works far better than "people [or hands] are not for hitting." Far too abstract for a child. Don't tell them, show them.
Later, explain. This is the part we tend to leave out. We do the right things, but we don't verbalize WHY we're doing them. So try saying, "Oma is sad, so let's bake her a cake and go visit her and she'll feel better. What is Oma's favorite cake?" If they mention their favorite cake, well you have an EQ learning moment there! Learning to see things from someone else's point of view, and to get outside your own head and heart is a big lifeskill to learn.
When your child sees another children crying, say, "Meike is crying. What do we do when someone's crying? We comfort them." And then show them what "comfort them" means, behaviorally.
With preschoolers, work with puppets. Let one puppet hit the other and "fix" this situation in Puppet Land. Watch your child's responses. Watch their self-esteem grow as they learn to manage themselves and their emotions.
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