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.

Reply

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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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