08/04/2020 - 12:38

EQ a go-to when going gets tough

08/04/2020 - 12:38


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Kids and teens look to teachers and parents for how best to navigate crises from an emotional intelligence perspective.

It’s important children and teens can switch off from the worries of the world and have a laugh. Photo: Stockphoto

Kids and teens look to teachers and parents for how best to navigate crises from an emotional intelligence perspective.

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens we are bombarded with information about new cases, escalating death rates, revised ways to flatten the infection curve and, of course, the dire economic impact.

We have no real idea what next week will look like, let alone what measures our governments will implement to blunt the impact of the virus.

The ambiguity attached to this pandemic has created fear, panic, mass anxiety and helplessness.

It has left many in our community in an emotionally fragile state.

If you are a teacher or parent, you must grapple with the added challenge of supporting children or teenagers to navigate their own emotions.

Teachers and parents must therefore form partnerships to help bolster the emotional intelligence of children of all ages.

Teachers should take every opportunity to integrate learnings about emotional intelligence across the curriculum and parents should support those efforts at home.

The concept of emotional intelligence – commonly referred to as emotional quotient (EQ) or emotional smarts – has shot to prominence in most workplaces in recent years, though it is lesser known in relation to our children and teenagers.

Yet for children and teenagers, emotional smarts can bolster academic success, help build stronger friendships, strengthen coping skills and resilience, and reduce risk behaviours.

Apart from obvious mental health benefits, the idea of highly emotionally intelligent children and teenagers makes enormous sense.

Children and teenagers who can calm themselves when in a panic or angry are likely to get on better in life because they are able to identify their triggers of negative emotions.

Consider the astronomical levels of worry among many children and teenagers, who are not immune from the coronavirus crisis and its far-reaching impact.

Worry, as a negative emotion, eats up all our attention and drains us of what might be described as good energy; and it is as contagious as COVID-19.

A child or teenager who can at least label that emotion and put their concerns into perspective, or take action to reduce worry, is more likely to function effectively on a day-to-day basis.

Most children and teenagers, depending on their age and developmental levels, can learn to be more emotionally intelligent; they just need their teachers and parents to teach them.

In attempting to boost a child or teenager’s EQ, keep in mind they will progressively increase the capacity to understand, and effectively express and manage their emotions as they age.

Be aware also that there are often huge EQ readiness differences from child to child, and teenager to teenager.

Parents and teachers wanting to bolster EQ levels should start with acknowledging the child's or teenager’s perspective when it comes to their concerns.

Even if it is not possible to remedy these concerns, empathising or ‘jumping into their shoes’ can help them let go of their troubling emotions.

It can also provide an example of how to be empathetic.

Younger children can develop an emotional vocabulary by learning to label their emotions and define the different meanings that sit behind terms such as ‘sad’, ‘disappointed’, ‘upset’ and ‘angry’.

As children get older, take opportunities to help them to manage their emotional responses to negative situations.

For example, teaching older children and teenagers to pause and think when angry, rather than to act impulsively and lash out, is a skill that will serve them well as they proceed through this crisis (which won’t be the last they face).

An important EQ skill is being able to learn to tune in and read others’ emotions, which is something children and teenagers often need help with.

Teachers and parents can facilitate this development by asking simple questions such as: “What do you think that person is feeling” and “what mood do you think that person is in?”

With younger children, this can even be turned into a game.

Of course, teachers and parents are less likely to be able to impart EQ skills without having taken steps to frame a positive mindset for themselves.

Sydney-based wellbeing practitioner Timo Topp recommends we attempt to dial down worry by ensuring we don’t focus on aspects of the current crisis every minute of the day.

Instead, we should upgrade gratitude by enjoying and appreciating the simple pleasures of life and leveraging levity and laughter by doing things like watching our favourite comedy shows.

As Mr Topp says, sometimes Seinfeld can save the day.

In an ideal world, teachers and parents would stop and talk to children and teenagers as feelings arise on a day-to-day basis.

But for busy teachers and parents, that is sometimes not an option.

As an alternative, try to designate a regular time each day (during school time or at home) to talk through emotions without time constraints.

In turbulent and challenging times like the ones we find ourselves in today, it might be just what the doctor ordered.


• Professor Gary Martin is chief executive officer at the Australian Institute of Management WA


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