Building Social & Emotional Intelligence in Children – How to Teach Connection and Civility

Building Social & Emotional Intelligence in Children - How to Teach Connection and Civility

In our changing world, teaching children civility is more important than ever. Civility goes beyond being polite and courteous; it involves listening to others with an open mind, disagreeing respectfully, and seeking common ground to start a conversation about differences. By teaching skills like empathy, problem-solving,and perspective taking, we can help nurture civility in our children.

Perspective taking.

Perspective taking is a critical skill for working in groups and resolving interpersonal conflicts. When children don’t stop to think about other people’s perspectives, it’s easy for them to make inaccurate assumptions about others’ intentions. And acting on these assumptions can lead to unnecessary conflict. 

Here are a few ways you can teach perspective-taking skills to your child: 

1. Read books together. Books are a wonderful resource for teaching perspective-taking skills, because you can take your time and ask lots of questions to help your child identify how a character might be feeling, spot the clues that reveal the character’s emotions, and discuss why the character might be feeling that way. 

2. Point out someone else’s emotions. Considering how someone else may be feeling in a public or social setting helps children learn to interpret and decode other people’s emotions. Though witnessing another person’s strong emotions can sometimes be uncomfortable, it can also be a wonderful teaching opportunity.

3. Share your own emotions. Talk with your child about how you’re feeling throughout the day. You can share why you feel certain emotions, and what you can do to problem solve or resolve a situation that’s causing a difficult emotion. This experience not only helps children build their perspective-taking skills, but normalizes both positive and negative emotions and helps develop empathy.

Empathy.

Empathy—the ability to feel or understand what someone else is feeling—is the foundation for positive interpersonal relationships and healthy communication. Having empathy in tough situations helps children treat others with kindness and respect, and may also help them intervene when another child is being bullied.

Modeling and showing empathy when you interact with your child is the most effective way to teach this important skill. So when your child is having a rough day or misbehaving, make your first response an empathetic one. This might sound like:

• “It’s so hard when …”
• “Oh, no …”
• “Uh-oh …”
• “Oh, man …”
• “You look/sound … ” 

Responding with empathy communicates to your child that you hear and understand him or her. When children feel heard, they’re more willing to listen, and more open to understanding and identifying with another person’s perspective.

Problem-solving.

Both bullies and their victims tend to lack problem-solving skills. Children who tend to avoid being drawn into bullying dynamics, on the other hand, are better able to recognize problems, brainstorm solutions, and make connections between their actions and consequences. The following three-step process is one you can use to help guide your child toward solving problems when they arise. 

1. Listen and validate. Listen empathetically and respond to your child’s thoughts and experiences with validation. Encourage your child to tell his or her story. (For example, “Hey buddy, tell me what happened.”) Then reflect back what the child said or paraphrase with something like “It sounds like you’re ________.”

2. Help your child label emotions. It’s important that you allow your child to label his or her own feelings, instead of dictating how to feel. Listen in a way that shows you’re paying attention and taking your child seriously, and don’t dismiss any emotions as silly or unimportant. 

3. Set limits while problem-solving. Set alimit on the behavior or choice your child expresses while acknowledging his or her emotions. For example, say, “It’s okay to feel/want ________, but it’s not okay to do ________.” Once the limit has been set, ask your child what he or she wanted or needed, then brainstorm together a few different ways to resolve the situation that are both safe and respectful. Help your child evaluate those ideas based on your family’s values and then let him or her choose what to do to fix the problem, try again, or try the next time the problem occurs.

Acting with civility requires children to be respectful, reflective, and self-aware. Learning the skills of perspective taking, empathy, and problem-solving helps children understand that their actions and words affect individuals as well as their entire community, encouraging them to rise up and act with civility in tough situations.

(This blog post originally appeared on the Committee For Children blog on February 24, 2017)


About the Author: Melissa Benaroya


Melissa Benaroya, LICSW, is a Seattle-based parent coach, speaker and author in the Seattle area (MelissaBenaroya.com). She created the Childproof Parenting online course and is the co-founder of GROW Parenting and Mommy Matters, and the co-author of The Childproof Parent. Melissa provides parents with the tools and support they need to raise healthy children and find more joy in parenting. Melissa offers parent coaching and classes and frequently speaks at area schools and businesses. Check out Melissa’s blog for more great tips on common parenting issues and Facebook for the latest news in parent education.

6 Comments

Siti

hey. this is encouraging read as I deal with my 2 teenagers n my 3 yo kid. Have to start young or start at the groundwork first though. can’t just jump right into the middle of this exercises! Thank u for making me feel not alone..

Reply
Melissa

Siti
I am so glad you found it helpful! I can only imagine the work you are doing as a parent of 2 teens and a toddler. Not easy work, but very important work!
Be well,
Melissa

Reply
Chelle Pugh

A friend directed me to this website regarding a great book about anxiety. I decided to have a look at the rest of the site too, and this article was the first that I read.

What a fantastic article – it has reaffirmed for me the approach that I try to take (albeit with needing a few small tweaks around some of the language/word choices) and I will show it to my husband who tends to disagree with my approach as he’s a lot more ‘old fashioned’ and I want him to see the benefit in taking a kinder approach that involves listening to the children, not just making them ‘shut up’ and toe the line without ever considering their feelings.

I look forward to reading more on this site. Thank you for taking the time to write this article though, Melissa.

Reply
Melissa Benaroya

Hi Chelle!

I just saw your response to the article that Karen at Hey Sigmund shared. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Karen is amazing and shares a ton of my writing, but you can also find more on the ChildproofParenting.com website.

Reply
Ari Yares

These are great suggestions!

We’re always working on building up emotional vocabulary. Not just in the moments when the child is experiencing a complicated emotion, but more importantly when we are reading or talking about emotions.

I’m finding that this makes the problem solving much easier.

Reply
Melissa Benaroya

Thanks for taking the time to respond Ari! I cannot agree with you more. The more we build our child’s EQ the easier it is to avoid and manage challenges when they arise.

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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

It is true that this is a time of celebration, but it can also be an intense time of self-reflection for our teens. (I can remember the same feelings when my gorgeous boy finished so many years ago!) My daughter has described it as, ‘I feel as though I’ve outgrown myself but my new self isn’t ready yet.’ This just makes so much sense. 

There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they ‘let go’ they’re letting us in on their deepest and most honest emotional selves. We don’t need to change that. What we need to do is meet them where they and gently guide them from there. When they feel seen and understood, their trust in us and their connection to us will deepen, opening the way for our influence.
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When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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 #mindfulparenting #neuronurtured #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #braindevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #childdevelopment #parentingtip #adolescence #positiveparentingtips #anxietyawareness #anxietyinchildren #childanxiety #parentingadvice #anxiety #parentingtips #motherhoodcommunity #anxietysupport #mentalhealth #heyawesome #heysigmund #heywarrior
When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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