Emotional Intelligence: Why teach it to teachers?

Written by Robin Gee, Preschool Director on .

Emotional Intelligence
Why teach it to teachers?

February (2019) School-Wide Professional Development
As you know, Preschool closes early twice a year for school-wide Professional Development. Last month’s workshop: Emotional Intelligence (EI) in the Preschool Setting was led by Gwen Bagley, one of the preeminent experts on EI in Early Childhood Education. EI is the ability to utilize emotions and apply them to tasks, for example thinking and problem-solving during a highly emotional event or situation. Having the ability to manage emotions, including controlling your own, as well as cheering up or calming down another person is Emotional Intelligence.

At the workshop, Gwen outlined four key components of EI: self-awareness, self-management, managing distressing emotions, and social awareness. As adult learners, we tried out some tools to help us understand our own strengths and develop areas where we are less strong. We also looked at how “emotional hijacks” can get in the way of effective relationships.

Why do we need Emotionally Intelligent Teachers?
EI is critically important for Early Childhood Educators for two reasons:

  • Reason 1 - Teachers with higher EI are more effective, have better parent-partnerships and make better decisions.
  • Reason 2 - In order for teachers to help children develop EI, they must be able to model and discuss their own emotions with children. You can't teach if you can't do!

Emotionally Intelligent people know how to make the workplace, and the world, a better place. Daniel Goleman, one of the best-known writers and researchers on Emotional Intelligence (Why It Can Matter More Than the IQ) states that it is Emotional Intelligence that drives a person to excellence both personally and professionally.

Tips for Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Acknowledge Perspective and Empathize  
You can’t prevent (and actually wouldn't want to prevent) most conflicts, upsets, or injustices. But when your child is upset, empathize. Just being understood helps humans let go of troubling emotions. Empathizing doesn’t mean you agree, just that you see her side, too. Remember she is entitled to her perspective. Feeling understood triggers biochemicals that travel in the neural pathways. Each time you empathize with your child, you’re strengthening these neural pathways to learn how to self-soothe. As your child grows, these pathways will be stronger and allow her to eventually self-soothe without your guidance. As adults, it is not our job to solve the problem. Empathize, and if necessary, help your child reflect on how she might want to resolve (or not resolve) the issue.

Allow Expression
Children can’t differentiate their emotions and them-selves. Accept their emotions rather than deny or minimize them. Minimizing a child’s emotions creates a belief that feelings are shameful or unacceptable (e.g. "Boys don't cry..."). Disapproving of fear or anger won’t stop him from having those feelings but it may well force him to repress them. Teach that feelings are understandable and part of being human. Your acceptance helps your child accept his emotions which in turn helps your child to resolve and move on.

Listen to Feelings
Rage doesn’t begin to dissipate until it feels heard. Listen to the feeling your child is expressing. Once the child feels they have been heard or expressed themselves, they can let go and get on with life. Resist the urge to protect your child from hurt feelings. The nature of healthy human emotions is to move through us, swamp us, and then pass away. Children can be terrified of their strong emotions, so they try to fend them off to feel safe. Tantrums are nature’s way to help children vent. 

Teach Problem-Solving
Teach your child to feel emotions and tolerate them without always needing to act on them. Once emotions are understood and accepted, the feelings lose their charge and begin to dissipate. This leaves an opening for problem-solving. Children just need our help to brainstorm constructive solutions to problems.  With coaching, we can empower children to handle their feelings in a positive way. It is important to not problem-solve for your child, but to be a participant in their problem solving.

Play it Out
When you notice a negative pattern developing, recognize that your child has some BIG feelings he doesn’t know how to handle, and step in with the BEST medicine: Play! Help him to work through those feelings by playing a game. Be creative, be silly, and change the tone, change the environment. All children experience BIG feelings on a daily basis. They often feel powerless and pushed around, angry, sad, scared, or jealous. Emotionally healthy children process these feelings through play. Your child cannot put these emotional conflicts into words, but he can play them out symbolically and resolve most of the time. Remember: laughter releases hormones similar to tears, but laughter can be a lot more fun!
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