What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It so Important?

What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It so Important?

What is emotional Intelligence?

When we think about children going to school to get an education, thoughts of academic rigor usually appear at the forefront. However, the emotional wellness of a child should not be undervalued and is something that all school districts need to include as part of their school mission statements. No child should ever come to school in distress or fear of being around their peers.

This past October, I did an activity with my middle school students that honored “Unity Day.” In the United States, this day was started in 2011 by Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center as an opportunity to promote kindness, empathy, and inclusion among students across the nation. My students took the activity seriously and did a fantastic job coming together to express their thoughts on how to make others feel included. They offered solutions on what needs to be done to build an empathetic community which supports one another.

Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Marc Brackett, the director at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the author of Permission to Feel to get his thoughts on the topic of “emotional intelligence.”

What is emotional intelligence and why is it so important for children to strengthen this type of intelligence?

Dr. Brackett mentions: “Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize our own emotions and those of others, not just in the things we think, feel, and say, but also in our facial expressions, body language, vocal tones, and other nonverbal signals.” For instance, if someone uses the phrase “Is that so?” Depending on the intonation and the context that question is being used, it can serve to have multiple meanings, which can provoke specific reactions.

There is a correlation between emotional intelligence and overall success and happiness. Research shows that children with higher emotional intelligence tend to have less anxiety and depression and experience a greater overall well-being. They also achieve higher academically and have better quality relationships with their peers.

How can we help foster emotional intelligence in our children?

  • First and foremost, parents, educators, and any adults working with children should set good examples of effective communication, kindness, acceptance, and understanding toward all people.
  • Model effective emotion regulation strategies. By finding practical strategies for dealing with what we and others feel, we will be better able to regulate our emotions, rather than let them regulate us.

For example, when I want to feel more positive emotion, I immediately change what I am thinking, which changes my state of being. When I feel more anxious, I look at a fixed object, take slow, relaxed deep breaths to regain a sense of being more mindful in the moment. Often children with learning differences feel different in some way and may become alienated. Thus, it’s even more important to check in with them and support them in learning how to manage their emotions effectively.

To support the health of kids, stop focusing on their weight

To support the health of kids, stop focusing on their weight

Since the pandemic started, people of all ages have gained weight. At the same time, the rate at which youth and young adults are seeking treatment for eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder, has increased.

While the reasons for these changes are complex, pandemic-related stress and weight bias — the belief that a thin body is good and healthy, while a large body is bad and unhealthy — are prominent contributors.

As researchers who study health behaviors and are also parents of young children, we often see health research and health initiatives that place a disproportionate emphasis on weight.

That’s a problem for two big reasons.

First, it draws attention away from better predictors of chronic disease and strategies to address these factors. Although a high body mass index, or BMI, is one risk factor for various chronic diseases, it is only one of many, and far from the strongest. And while moderate weight loss does reduce chronic disease risk for some people, about 80 percent of individuals who manage to lose weight regain it. The other 20 percent describe their ongoing efforts to maintain their weight loss as stressful and exhausting.

Second, disproportionate emphasis on weight reinforces weight bias. Weight bias, in turn, contributes to weight-related discrimination, like bullying and teasing, which is common among youth. Across diverse samples surveyed, 25 percent to 50 percent of children and adolescents report being teased or bullied about their body size, and these experiences are linked to disordered eating and depression, as well as poorer academic performance and health.

To best support the physical and emotional health of children during this pandemic, we suggest reducing the emphasis on body size. Below are some specific tips for parents, teachers and medical providers.

1. Stop using the words ‘fat,’ ‘obese’ and ‘overweight’

When asked, children and adults with larger bodies consistently indicate that these are the least preferred and most stigmatizing terms to talk about body size, while “weight” and “body mass” are the most preferred.

So, consider modeling less stigmatizing language. For example, if your teen refers to her friend as “overweight,” respond by saying, “Yes, your friend does have a larger body.” Likewise, if your doctor refers to your child as “obese,” ask them to share their “body mass index percentile” instead. Or, better yet, ask them not to talk about weight at all, which leads us to our next recommendation.

2. Focus on health behaviors

Physical activity, eating habits and emotional support from friends and family are stronger predictors of disease and death than BMI, and all of these have been greatly affected by COVID-19.

Considering that behavioral weight loss programs are ineffective for the majority of people, we recommend focusing on behaviors that are more easily changed and have stronger influences on health and well-being. Regular physical activity, for example, improves mood and lowers risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, even in the absence of weight loss.

What Parents Can Do To Shape Their Kids' Early Memories

What Parents Can Do To Shape Their Kids’ Early Memories

Over the past 18 months, many parents have asked themselves: How much of the pandemic will my children remember? And how might those lasting memories — as well as all the others they carry from their childhood — shape who they become?

I’ve personally wondered about that with my own children, especially my toddler, who has now lived more than half his life during an unprecedented global health crisis. I like to think he’s generally a happy kid who’s had a happy life so far, but how do I know if he’ll be carrying around some not-so-lovely COVID-19 memories for years to come?

While memory is complex and many of those questions can’t really be answered, what is clear to experts is that kids’ memories are stronger and better than they once thought. The long-term memories they form may not be totally reliable, but they can still recollect a remarkable amount from their early years.

Here’s why that matters, and what parents can do about it:

The idea that kids can’t remember anything before age 3 is wrong

Sometimes when I’m annoyed with my toddler’s antics and I’m not necessarily being the nicest, most patient mom, I comfort myself with the idea that he probably won’t remember any of this.

Not so, according to Carole Peterson, a professor who studies language and memories at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada.

“Children often remember farther into the past than we once believed they could,” she told HuffPost.

Several of Peterson’s studies focus on a phenomenon known as “childhood amnesia,” or the idea that kids (and adults!) remember very little about life before age 3 or 4. For decades, experts thought that childhood amnesia was due to the fact that kids’ brains simply could not form memories before a certain point.

But Peterson and other researchers have found that that’s not necessarily true. One of Peterson’s studies, for example, showed that children who have medical emergencies when they’re just 2 years old — and who are interviewed years later — can absolutely remember central components of their experiences. They may not remember them as clearly as children who were older at the time of their health events, but the memories were still there. Other studies suggest that children remember things that happened to them when they were around 3 very well at age 5, 6 and 7, but they start to lose those memories around age 8 or 9.

All of this is to say there isn’t a clear consensus about when young kids form lasting memories, and it depends on the child. Kids also tend to not be very good at accurately dating their memories, Peterson said, which complicates our understanding of all of this. A 4-year-old, for example, might recall an event from when they were 2 but think it was relatively recent.

The bottom line for parents, Peterson said, is that children may indeed remember things earlier than we think they do.

Emotional events tend to stick with children the most

“Anything that is emotionally salient, kids will remember more often,” Jenny Yip, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist, previously told HuffPost. That’s true for both younger kiddos and older children.

In our present moment, that means kids who’ve had a particularly hard stretch during the pandemic might hold on to those memories more than others.

Expert-approved tips to calm down when you're angry

Expert-approved tips to calm down when you’re angry

Anger is an important instrument for anyone’s emotional toolbox. It protects, helps discharge stress and can bring words and feelings to the surface that may need to be expressed to help relationships grow.

But the manner in which one handles feelings of anger can lead to vastly different outcomes. “There’s nothing wrong with anger, it’s what you do with it that matters,” said Dr. Joseph Shrand, an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of “Outsmarting Anger: 7 Steps for Defusing Our Most Dangerous Emotion.”

Indeed, the author of “The 5 Love Languages,” Gary Chapman, has counseled countless families and couples over his career and has seen numerous instances in which mismanaged anger destroys marriages, fractures friendships and sometimes even separates parents from children. “Much of my counseling has been in helping individuals understand and process anger,” he said.

Why we get angry

It’s helpful to understand why we get angry in the first place. “In human relationships, anger is the emotion that arises when we feel that we have been wronged or in some way mistreated,” Chapman said. “It’s a call for action to right the wrong. However, when we yield to our first impulse, we usually make things worse.”

Shrand had a similar take: “We feel anger because we want something to be different. We wish someone would stop doing something or start doing something,” he said. He explained that when we’re angry, the part of the brain in charge of managing emotional responses known as the limbic system, gets ready for a fight. In such a state, “we can get impulsive, irrational and lash out without thinking,” he warned.

“Anger is part of the brain’s fight-or-flight response, so it has to do with our survival instinct,” said Stephen Dansiger, an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing clinician and author of “Mindfulness for Anger Management.” He described some of the body’s physiological responses when angry: a rising heart rate, muscle tension, sweating and heightened hearing and vision. “The body is literally preparing to deal with the perceived threat,” he said.

What to do with our anger

Problem is, such base instincts may perceive threats where no real danger exists. “When we’re angry, we see ourselves as a hammer and everyone around us as a nail,” said Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.” That may include reacting to an insensitive comment from a spouse or to a child who just threw their plate of food on the floor. In such instances, Markham warns, “there is no real threat, but our bodies react as if there is.”

The best way to deal with anger, the experts said, is to diffuse it. That means doing whatever it takes to remind your brain there isn’t really a threat or emergency and that it’s time to calm down.

“There’s an entire body of research on how to calm down and retrain the nervous system,” Markham said. She suggested techniques like running your hands under cold water, taking deep breaths, getting some fresh air, humming, shaking your wrists, counting backwards from 100 until you start to feel calm again, or even forcing a laugh or a smile to trick your brain into switching gears. “These are all research-supported ways to calm down in the moment,” she said.

Social Emotional Learning in Schools for an Enriched Learning Environment

Social Emotional Learning in Schools for an Enriched Learning Environment

The current times call for a need to envision education with the demands of the present situation and for that very reason we must make changes to adapt well. The society we live in is constantly evolving and for the ever-changing world we also require education that garners tools that helps students to be not only academically excellent but also compassionate, responsible towards others and themselves. For this, we need to add something in the education system, that is, social-emotional learning. As of now, education is missing SEL which is a highly sensitive part of the system. Research in SEL shows that focusing on social and emotional aspects of children also helps in developing other academic skills from the early years of their life. Also, we need to take into account that both academic as well as emotional intelligence plays a huge role when we talk about education for the whole child.

Even The New Education Policy recognises the importance of Social-Emotional Learning for holistic development of children from early childhood. “Based on the developments that have taken place in the world of cognitive science, there is now deep engagement with the idea that these social and emotional competencies must be acquired by all learners and that all learners should become more academically, socially and emotionally competent”. (National Education Policy, 2019)

Social-Emotional Learning is a new way of looking at education, where students develop skills to be intellectually intelligent as well as grow to be kinder, compassionate, and responsible citizens of the society.

Here, we will try to understand what SEL is, why it is needed in schools, and some applications.

What is SEL?

As we break down each term separately, we could say that it is “an approach of learning that deals with society (Social/Outward) and with oneself (Emotional/Inward).” Maurice J Ellias stated, “Social-emotional skills, or ‘emotional intelligence’, is the name given to the set of abilities that allows students to work with others, learn effectively, and serve essential roles in their families, communities and places of work.” (The International Academy of Education, 2003). SEL is a process where children learn self-awareness, management, empathy, responsible decision making, etc.

SEL instructions are provided in schools to students by incorporating it through curriculum, activities, games, play, etc. This cultivates a sense of belongingness, caring, compassion towards each other and also with themselves. Social Emotional Learning provides an enriching environment and empowers students to be kinder, compassionate, and resilient not only for today but also for the unpredictable future. These skills equip children of today with better and positive interventions for tomorrow.

We can also say that SEL is more than a course or a subject. It is not something which is taught once and our work is finished. SEL is a life goal, it is continuous and ever changing.

School, Content, and Pedagogy

What we have seen till now is that curriculum, the content which is taught in schools primarily focus on academic excellence and social and emotional learning takes a back seat. Then, we say “Education is for a whole child”. When we talk about the whole child, why do we only focus academically? As we know that the traditional teaching model in schools is not of today but was designed many years ago as per the needs of that time. The present situation requires a change in the system. Which could be met when children not only excel academically but also socially and emotionally.

Ways to replace screen time for children

Ways to replace screen time for children

Today, many parents are struggling to curtail screen time and find alternate ways to engage their children. For many, the struggle is being able to coax their children to disengage from the screen.

Now that online schooling has brought screens into the home, the magnet of online games and recreation seems to be consuming the hours of most children.

Ironically, for parents the screen is an easy tool at their disposal that offers them moments of respite, but the addiction to screens by young children is not what most had bargained for. Most parents and caretakers are aware that children shouldn’t be given easy access to technology at such a young age. Yet, we are all guilty of doing so because we need to multitask, we are tired, and because children simply love it. It’s surprising to see that two-year-olds today can operate a smartphone probably better than I can.

Yet, despite how easy it might be to hand that gadget to your child, I’ll state the obvious – screen time for children isn’t right at all. Research from the Indian Academy of Pediatrics points out that children below the age of two years should not be exposed to any type of screen with the exception of occasional video calls with relatives. For children between the age of two and five years, screen time should not exceed one hour, though the lesser, the better. For ages higher than five, screen time should never come at the cost of any other activity crucial for development such as physical activity, sleep, school work, eating etc.

Further, increased time on phones and tablets also means less time spent with others. This comes at the cost of slowing down and hindering the development of language skills, social and interpersonal skills that develop the much needed ability to feel compassion and empathy.

Sadly, it can also cause isolation at a young age, leading to issues like increased anxiety and even depression in the future.

Hence, despite the fact that we might be proud of our child quickly grasping their command over technology or learning rhymes through YouTube, screen time for kids, beyond school, must be minimised and discouraged.

Prior to the technological age, children enjoyed childhood in the true sense of the word. A childhood that had them use their imagination to create games, find friends to play with and be in touch with the outdoors – all tools necessary to sculpt children into wholesome, confident and social beings with a real sense of their world.

While we have identified the problem, I would like to focus on some possible alternatives to engage our children.

Start with […]