by Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD
While we know how important emotional intelligence is for kid’s happiness and well-being, it’s been difficult to get experts to agree on the best ways to teach these skills to children. In an excellent New York Times article, Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?, Jennifer Kahn, professor at the University of California, identifies some of the challenges of teaching what is often called social and emotional learning.
The teaching of emotional intelligence is complex. Parents and teachers need to understand and be able to manage their own emotions in order for a child to model effective behaviors and connect to caregivers on deep emotional levels. It is at these deeper levels of understanding that positive changes in the brain occur. The issue I find with many social and emotional learning programs is their focus is solely on thinking.
After all, emotional intelligence is about the connection we feel between body, mind, and spirit –and how we make sense of sensations, thoughts, and feelings. That connection is a critical aspect ofsocial and emotional learning and in stimulating the brain’s neuroplasticity.
A quick Internet search will give K-6 parents and teachers lots of information about emotional intelligence and about the many programs being tested in schools on how best to instill these abilities. We can’t wait for another decade of research to be completed. There are excellent ways families and teachers can begin to create a culture that builds emotional intelligence in homes and classrooms right now.
Use a Toolbox to Build Emotional Intelligence
Unfortunately, The Toolbox Project is currently being piloted only in a small group of schools as research is conducted on its effectiveness. But the website at Dovetail Learning offers an array of information for anyone wanting to help kids develop emotional intelligence. They even provide a downloadable flier of the 12 tools so you and your children or classroom can get inspired to use them! The tools are simple yet extremely powerful!
- Breathing Tool teaches children to calm themselves, check-in with their bodies, and reflect to discover what’s best for them and others.
- Quiet/Safe Place Tool helps kids find respite and safety when they need to withdraw and find their natural rhythm.
- Listening Tool reminds children to listen with all of their senses, including their hearts.
- Empathy Tool encourages kids to let go of their own perspectives long enough to acknowledge other people’s thoughts and feelings.
- Personal Space Tool teaches children how to appreciate their own and other people’s boundaries.
- Using Our Words Tool helps children understand that the words they choose make a difference to the relationships they create.
- Garbage Can Tool allows kids to discard the unkind words and actions of others and focus on what has the most meaning to them.
- Taking Time Tool gives children permission to choose time wisely, in ways that help them self-reflect and understand others.
- Please and Thank You Tool instills those magic words that show respect to others and invites people into deeper connections.
- Apology and Forgiveness Tool reminds children that mistakes are a vehicle for learning and how important it is to let go of blame and resentment.
- Patience Tool helps kids understand that they are strong enough to wait – a valuable skill that helps children learn to manage their emotions.
- Courage Tool teaches children to stand up for what is right, even when other’s aren’t watching.
I love these tools! When used wisely, parents with elementary-age children, parents who are homeschooling and K-6 teachers can use these tools to help build a culture of emotional intelligence.
Suggestions for Applying the Toolbox Today!
- Work with your children to make a deck of toolbox cards or create a key-chained grouping of them similar to the video.
- Talk about each tool as you create them – this will help children get a general feel for the whole toolbox.
- Focus on ONE tool each week for practice. Adults and children should both practice using the tools. Learning is a two-way street! You learn from each other.
- As each week progresses, add ONE more tool for practice during the week as you build a repertoire for using all of them. Adults help children by suggesting a specific tool that would be useful in certain situations.
- Have a weekly check-in where you talk about what’s going well and what needs more work. How are you using the toolbox? How does it help you? How can it be misused? How are your relationships improving? During this time, help children more fully understand each tool.
- At the end of three months, your family or classroom will have lots of experience using your own toolbox of social and emotional skills! Continue using them until they become a natural part of your social culture.
One of the things I love about these tools is that they are used by children AND the adults in their lives! Yes, we adults need practice too! The toolbox gives everyone a simple, common, and easily-remembered way of using the abilities that make our brains healthy!