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Emotional Intelligence

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown more and more puzzled as to how much isn’t taught at home or at school or on the playground–about life in general.

We have to get a license to drive.  We have to be FBI-screened to teach.  We have to pass exams to get into school or to practice the career of our choice.

But very rarely do we get hands-on training on how to manage distress (or stress), or how to curb aggressive impulses, or how to focus our attention.  Of course we do get training (more like role-modeling) from our parents who also learned their behavior from their parents.  It doesn’t mean it’s correct behavior; it simply means it’s passed on, most frequently, without thinking.

Why not help our kids learn these things?

I’ve just finished Linda Lantieri’s Building Emotional Intelligence, which includes Daniel Goleman’s exercises for children (and adults).  It’s a “program” that was used in some of the Manhattan schools following 9/11.

The two techniques taught in the book are “relaxing the body (through progressive muscle relaxation and a body scan exercise)” and “focusing the mind (through a mindfulness exercise).”  A CD is included to help you, the parent, lead your child or children through the steps (very helpful!).

This is one of those arenas where parent and child can learn equally well, and there is no destination–no final point of perfection.  It’s a process.

“For both you and your child, learning to be more mindful and appreciative of silence is not likely to unfold in a straight line.  There will be days when it might seem that nothing you’re doing is working.  Then suddenly, things will gel: when you lose your cool, your child might prompt you to take a breath, and you’ll realize just how deeply she has been integrating these ideas.  Gradually, what might feel at times forced or artificial about this work will become more automatic and authentic.”

Here’s a handful of practical ideas (and these are taken from the book):

  1. Have a dinnertime quieting ritual.  This could mean observing candles or saying something about your day.
  2. Teach the “Keep Calm” Activity.  This activity comes from the book Emotionally Intelligent Parenting by Maurice Elias, Steven Tobias, and Brian Friedlander.  a. Tell yourself, “Stop and take a look around.”  b. Tell yourself, “Keep calm.”  c. Take a deep breath through your nose while you count to five, hold it while you count to two, and then breathe out through your mouth while you count to five.  d. Repeat these steps until you feel calm.
  3. Use calming music.  Take a “music break” or play soft classical music.  It is well known that listening to calming music has a direct correlation with a lowered respiration and heart rate, as well as changing our emotional mood.
  4. Make room for silence and stillness.  Pause.  Take quiet breaks.  Turn off the car radio or sound system for a few minutes.  What do you hear?  Be present.
  5. Address violent or disturbing events your child witnesses.  The child will release stress by having a positive, listening outlet.  Being able to talk about your child’s concerns and being fully present as you listen to her questions are also crucial in how your child will remember and integrate any particular event.
  6. Honor nature and provide opportunities to be outdoors.  Notice the seasons or the night sky.
  7. Help your child check into her body cues.  If this is difficult, you can order biodots here.  These dots respond to the temperature of your body and through color changes tell you just how stressed (or calm) you are.
  8. Use story time effectively.  Stories can take you to deeper places.  Children love repetition.

Take, for example, the five- to seven-year-old range.  Some of the activities you might do with your child are the game “I-Spy” and “mindfully” eating a raisin.  I’m thinking that that last one, especially, could be used at all age groups.  Who really savors their food anymore?

A snippet of “mindfully” eating a raisin, led by you (or a teacher):

“Now explain that you will do something else that you do every day–just like seeing.  You will eat something in a mindful way.  Give your child and yourself two raisins each on a paper plate or napkin.

“You might want to give your child a chance to eat one raisin before continuing.  You could say:

“I’ve got these raisins.  I’m wondering if you’d like to taste one before we begin this activity.

“Now ask your child to bring all of his attention to the second raisin. Ask him to take a few moments now to look very carefully at his raisin and then pick it up (but explain that he is not to put it in his mouth yet).  Ask him for words that describe the raisin:

What are some words to describe your raisin?  What color is it?  How big is it?  Is it soft or hard?  What else do you notice about it?

“Have your child pick up the raisin and eventually put it into his mouth and eat it.  You could say:

So, in a moment, we are each going to put a raisin in our mouths.  We are going to let the raisins stay in our mouths without biting them yet, until I put up my fingers from 1 to 5.  Just feel the raisin with your tongue.  Ready?  1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  Now slowly begin to chew it as I count to 5 again.  Don’t swallow it yet.  Think to yourself, “How does it taste?”  Wait until I count to 5: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and now swallow it.

“As you’re eating your raisin as well, just put up your fingers from 1 to 5.

“Ask:

So what was that like?  What happened?  What did you notice? Was that hard or easy to do?  Why?

“Share your own insights.”

Now this seems so ridiculously simple, but I’ll tell you a little story about when I was in second grade.  My class was studying how saliva works on our food, even before our stomach gets a hold of it.  My teacher gave us each a saltine cracker and claimed that if we chewed it long enough, its salty flavor would change to sweetness on our tongues.  Well, I don’t know if that happened.  I was skeptical, even then.  But let me tell you, I was concentrating those long few minutes I had that soggy cracker in my mouth!  It obviously made an impression on me.

That’s the sort of thing they’re advocating.  Kids gaining focus to control their own bodies and emotions (sometimes one and the same!).

I like that.  And I like that Dan’s already starting to do this with Liliana, even before I read this book.  I like how he holds her firmly when she gets out of control and tells her to take a deep breath, like this, then a deep breath out, like this.  It’s visibly altering.  And he’s been playing I Spy with her in the evenings–something she adores.

I guess some of this is common sense, but not all of it.  There’d be less stress in the world, if it were.

[Post image: Liliana and Hugo, as taken by Frederique Daniel]

One Comment

  1. […] numerous times on this topic only because it’s extremely important to me.  There’s the post on Building Emotional Intelligence, based on the book of the same title.  There’s the post on Eating an Orange, a sort of […]

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Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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