Emotional Intelligence and Children
Like any of us, kids experience joy and pain every day.
As caregivers, many of us often overlook this complexity because we want our kids to be happy. If our kids are happy then we must be doing a good job. And that will mean the kids in our care will give us a break!
The problem is that a lot of kids aren’t happy. We all know children who inexplicably lash out or who throw tantrums at the mere mention of a rain jacket or vegetables. These emotional hurricanes can cause caregivers to throw up their hands and give their kids whatever it takes to make them chill!
Some have said the habit of negotiating is to blame. (“Kids shouldn’t be allowed to get their way at every turn!”) Others have said the habit of not negotiating with kids is to blame. (“Kids should be empowered to express themselves!”)
In our work with children, there are moments we negotiate (“It seems like you guys aren’t digging this activity. Do you want to move on?”) and moments when we do not (“You get what you get and you don’t get upset!”). We try to be good judges of when negotiation can diffuse tensions and when it might increase it. It’s an imperfect science, a very imperfect science, but we think that imperfection is a good thing for kids to learn and understand.
Nonetheless, we happen to believe the root cause of “emotional hurricanes” comes from another place.
Many caregivers demand kids to perform a kind of simple happiness for the adults in their life. Children are asked to “smile!” or to “give so-and-so a hug!” or to “say thank you!” even when they may be wrestling with contradictory, unpleasant emotions. Maybe the person their being forced to hug is despicable in their experience; maybe they don’t feel gratitude one bit for the rejected hand-me-downs they’ve been tossed.
A great deal of children’s media and literature reinforces this puppetry and presents children with no emotional option except to be kind, happy, lovely, and behaved. “La-la-la-happy-happy-sing-sing!”
When challenges arrive in a child’s life, they are left without any satisfying tools to navigate their emotions. Let’s remember that challenges may be as simple as having a piece of chocolate stolen off a plate or as complex as abuse. Without any better tools, children may resort to anger or stubbornness because they have never been allowed to feel anything else.
Would any of us be able to hold ourselves together for a day, let alone an hour, without feeling a little anger, jealousy, or ugliness in our own lives? Think about how you would feel if your best friend stole your favorite shoes and you were supposed to forgive her on the spot. Or if you were forced to hug a sweaty neighbor who always looked at you in a weird way and made you feel unsafe.
What a disempowering state!
We believe kids are capable of thinking through complex emotional and even philosophical problems, and we try to create projects that embrace their maturity and let it thrive.
We fully and deeply believe that children can understand imperfection and that this complexity needs to be written into everything we do.