Helping kids master what matters: Emotions, relationships and a good dose of skepticism
I’ve interviewed a lot of experts this year about families, across a big variety of topics, from caring for the elderly to helping kids avoid domestic violence. What I find striking is how much of the advice on that spectrum of topics has come back to the concept of what we should be teaching our children — and learning ourselves if we have not already done so.
In at least a third of the interviews, I’ve heard these words: “I wish schools taught a class on .” You can fill in the blank, but the suggestions are all to some degree interconnected.
They’re not talking about math or science or history. They are talking about fundamental skills to help children navigate relationships, not just while they are children but as they move through all the stages of their lives.
One expert said every child should spend time developing a “relationship IQ.” I have to agree.
The overlap is impressive. For example, one of the things I most wish my girls to learn — and something I’ve tried to help them embrace — is skepticism. We live in a world where it’s not uncommon to hear outright lies broadly circulated as truth, usually driven by either political agenda or the urge to sell a product. Often, you must have some media literacy to debunk the message, but that involves learning to analyze, since it’s no more intuitive than looking at a column of numbers and figuring out how to add them up if no one has ever explained basic arithmetic to you.
Parents should be working on this skill set with their kids just as they help them learn other basic tasks. They are all topics you both live and discuss, with impromptu demonstrations as situations arise, I think.
My parents did not always approach the conflict resolution piece in the same way. My dad might tell us to knock it off when my siblings and I started to fight. If we didn’t obey, he’d offer a consequence. My mother would let us argue and eventually work things out among ourselves, but we’d have to “take it outside” so she didn’t have to hear it. My own tendency is probably not the best for getting my teenagers to resolve their conflicts. I often rather ineffectually just tell them to “cut each other some slack” or “just stop.” I want peace, but getting there my way doesn’t necessarily build anyone’s reasoning or negotiating skills.
I’ve tried hard to tackle the media literacy piece because I think it’s pervasive and kids can get a really warped sense of what’s real. We’ve talked a lot about how some movies, TV shows, ads and music videos present girls and women as body parts — which makes it easier to overly sexualize or victimize in ways that would not occur were those same people viewed as a complete person. We often chat about what’s being sold, whether it’s a message or a makeup kit.
All of those skills contribute to a really big one, which is emotional intelligence. Kendra Cherry, author of “Everything Psychology,” defines emotional intelligence as the “ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions.” People who have it — and there’s a fair amount of discussion about how much is natural ability and how much is learned — can not only express, understand and control their own emotions, but can pick up the cues to what other people are feeling. They can relate to others in an appropriate and healthy fashion, which is probably a much greater key to overall life success and happiness than whether you have money or a dream job.
I’m not sure how, exactly, schools would go about teaching all these things. I do know that it’s a great place to practice them.
The pursuit of mastery should start early and be lifelong.
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