Making them emotion-able

Aditi Mathur and Ratnesh Mathur

Part 1
The biggest mistake we make with children is to LIMIT them. Somewhere we think that we know how much a child can achieve and we expect only that out of our child. We communicate to the child, in different ways, that since he/she is a child, he/she is not capable of things beyond a limit.

But a kite can fly only as high as the string we are ready to leave. The most frequently misjudged area in this regard is emotional capability. Not only is our understanding of EQ limited, we think that children’s ability to understand and manage emotions is also limited.

Let us give you an example to illustrate the contrary: When we were running a pre-school, a two and half-year-old was crying (standing in one place) because she had lost her bag. She was making no effort to search for her bag. While most people would try and pacify a child of that age and would help her find her bag, we followed another approach. We asked her, “How will crying help you find your bag?” Remember she is just 2.5 yrs old! It’s not surprising that we had to repeat this question a good 10 times, but the effect was terrific. She soon stopped crying and started looking for her bag by herself.

The best thing about this approach was that while we were not sure whether she was capable of managing her crying and finding her bag, we did not want to limit her by our judgment of the same! The result was truly surprising and it reassured us of the following

  1. Children live up to the expectations we set for them – put no bar and they soar!
  2. Emotional intelligence is not something that children need to learn, they actually JUST need to DISCOVER (it is already in them).
  3. Emotions form our basic operating system – they determine our thoughts and actions and hence even if we do not like it, children are all the time living out of them, managing them, albeit not necessarily the most optimally.

Isn’t then emotional quotient something that directly determines our happiness, our health, and how beautifully we live our lives? Shouldn’t emotional empowerment be an integral part of a child’s development and learning?

Part 2
The washing machine repair guy, the music system service center and my LCD projector service person all made the same remark: They said, in different words that my “old” machine is really good, they don’t make it like this (rugged and stable) any more. Today machines require to be junked in just a few years, while my old one is good for still many more years!

Later on, pondering over their statement frightened me. Was this true only of machines or true of adults and children as well? Aren’t there more children or youths who commit suicide today? More who are depressed and disillusioned? Isn’t stress and discontent increasing? And emotional burnout common?

While almost all schools have included computers in their curriculum, why haven’t they included emotional intelligence or EQ in their curriculum? At best, schools have appointed a school counsellor – but that’s like having a doctor on call for physical development. Why isn’t emotional development a core curriculum objective?

Do we as parents and teachers really understand a child’s emotional needs? And more importantly what can we do on a day to day basis? Although one article is not enough to talk about all aspects of emotional development – here are five starter EQ principles:

1. The machine principle: A machine is something that gives output to an input. Importantly, the output is ONLY because of the INPUT. The emotional response a child shows (output) – anger, crying, hitting – is not the problem. The input – the reason for the emotional situation is what needs to be taken care. Somehow we as adults tend to respond to the emotional output – like “don’t cry”, “you shouldn’t hit” or “behave properly.”

Can we instead take care of the input by acknowledging the *real* issue? “You are upset because you want that toy”, “You are mad with me for not playing with you”, and so on… We take care of the input and the child takes care of the output.

2. The washing machine principle: We realize emotional situations are just dirty linen. All that is needed is soaking and churning. Our presence, listening and acceptance are elements of soaking. Now let’s give them time to become aware of what they are feeling (rather than what I as a parent am feeling and thinking). Once they come to understand their emotions, give them “space” to try out different strategies – the churning.

Example: Child comes home and says “I feel like hitting Rahul. I hate him. I am not playing with him anymore.”
Parent: Okay (listening – soaking)
Child: He is such a @#$%^
Parent: (instead of saying ‘don’t use such language’), “You seem to be really upset” (acceptance – soaking)
Child: Yes, you know this Rahul….. (listening – soaking)
Parent: So what do you want to do or how you would like me to help? (churning)

3. The music system principle: A player can only play the kind of media it is designed to play. A child will only express if he has learned how to express – from ME! If he has learnt FROM ME to shout, or shut up or blame or crib – then that’s the design of his system. Hence it’s important that we express enough of our feelings; that we as adults do not sulk, or go into a shell or play the game that ‘everything is alright’.

Hence it’s important that we learn how to express so that the child too learns to express his/her feelings. It is important that we use appropriate vocabulary so that the child learns appropriate vocabulary.

So if you are upset with say, your spouse, how do you express it to him/her? How do you deal with it? Think about it – work on it.

4. The projector principle: It becomes clearer when we are able to project it. Help children project their emotions. Use puppets, pretend play, soft toys, drawing, sand play, a big blackboard with coloured chalk, poetry, songs, music, dance, drama and so on. Projections work as workable alternatives to the conventionally unacceptable behaviours like hitting, shouting, etc. The child also learns that having emotions is fine, it’s alright to be angry or upset or sad. The difference lies in the way it is expressed. When the child is exposed to a wider array of projection options chances are she/he will use them!

5. Finally the maintenance principle: A stitch in time saves nine. Don’t run on a punctured tube, or you will end up spoiling the whole tyre. Something very frankly we’re still learning. Somewhere, we tend to procrastinate an emotional problem hoping that it will go away. But garbage collected in your garbage can cannot be wished away. It needs to be emptied out. It needs to be allocated its time and effort.

Better is preventive maintenance – a kind of daily let’s-purge-our-emotional-bins kind of approach. An excellent idea is to do a ‘Hi before Bye’: Just before ending your school or session or day – each member goes through their day, specially touching upon the emotional – both positive or negative emotions, or highs and lows. Remember, we as teachers or parents need to do this too with our day before we expect the children to do it effectively. Realize this ‘Hi’ is not for discussion – just for expression. Another way is to have an emotional board in the class /house – where everybody in the house can post “How am I feeling today”, with the reassurance that this would be accepted by everyone.

I often joke with children, “Don’t say Hi, Don’t say Bye, Gimme Chai”, (Chai stands for chit-chat, expression, sharing your needs and feelings with me).

The authors run an open unschool called Aarohi and invite all readers to visit and see how open learning can be an amazing way to work with children. They also conduct training retreats and online training for teachers and parents. Visit