Not so long ago, Anabel saw something weird. She was out running and noticed a chauffeured sedan with a group of students going to some major event—probably a prom or maybe a birthday party. That’s not the weird part.
The weird part was this:
Not one kid was talking to any of the others—none of them.
There was no eye contact. There was no back and forth conversation with each other.
Instead, they were all on their cell phones. Each one appeared to be having a separate conversation with someone outside the car—all separate, no emotional connection between any of them.
Has your child experienced this?
Over the years, we have heard the following comment from parents repeatedly: “I just want my child to be happy.”
John Medina, in his book Brain Rules for Baby, clearly makes the case that if parents want children to be happy, they need to learn how to make friends. But friendship skills are becoming more and more rare.
How can we help children develop skills that support learning, positive behavior, and constructive social relationships?
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is “the process through which people learn to recognize and manage emotions, care about others, make good decisions, behave ethically and responsibly, develop positive relationships and avoid negative behaviors. Such skills are critical components of the success of all schools.” (Elias, 2003)
In other words, it is the ability to:
- Know yourself, which includes naming and communicating emotions, understanding the way emotions and cognition interrelate (i.e., emotional thinking and cognitive thinking affect one another), recognizing your own patterns and indentifying your needs.
- Choose yourself, which is defined by reshaping those patterns, setting priorities and making choices based on conscious processes.
- Give yourself, which concerns a commitment to the larger world—like recognizing interdependence and committing to noble goals (i.e., service learning).
- Improved attitudes, including improved academic motivation, commitment to learning, and a sense of school as a caring place.
- Improved behavior, resulting in fewer absences and suspensions, more pro-social interactions, and reduced aggression, disruptive behavior and interpersonal violence.
- Skills to enable them to avoid engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as using illegal drugs and dropping out of school.
- Improved academic performance, including improved skills and grades in math, language arts and social studies, and better problem-solving and planning skills and subject mastery.
(Durlack & Weissberg, 2005: Elias et al., 1997; Greenberg et al., 2003; Hawkins, 1999; Wilson et al., 2001; Zins and Elias, 2006; Zins et al., 2004)
So, what can we, as parents, model for our children as they begin to develop their own social and emotional competencies? And how do we teach our children to make friends?
Here are 13 tips to help you model good relationship skills:
- Self-awareness: observe yourself and recognize your feelings
- Personal decision-making: examine your actions and know their consequences
- Managing feelings: find positive ways to handle fears and anxieties, anger, and sadness
- Handling stress: learn the value of exercise and relaxation methods
- Empathy: understand others’ feelings and concerns and take their perspective
- Communication: talk about feelings effectively, become a good listener and question-asker
- Self-disclosure: value openness and build trust in a relationship
- Insight: identify patterns in your emotional life and reactions; recognize similar patterns in others
- Self-acceptance: feel pride and see yourself in a positive light; recognize your strengths and weaknesses
- Personal responsibility: take responsibility; recognize the consequences of your decisions and actions
- Assertiveness: state your concerns and feelings without anger or passivity
- Group dynamics: cooperate; know when and how to lead, when to follow
- Conflict resolution: how to fight fair; the win-win model for negotiating compromise
Scenes like the one in the party car are repeated in almost every house in the land—parents checking their iPhones over dinner, kids playing computer games in their rooms, all of them sitting on the sofa but watching TV, updating their Facebook status or reading a book.
Zero connection and community.
We practice our relationship skills less and less.
And they are slipping away….
Raising happy children who can make connections, build teams, strengthen family units means we must refocus, look each other in the eye and remind ourselves how we relate to one another.
Showing and modeling for our kids the way will set them on a path for life.
And it may make us adults happier, too.
Ann Smith is Principal at Gifted Support Center in Menlo Park and serves on the Board of Directors for California Association for the Gifted as Bay Area Region Parent Representative. She provides consultation, assessments, resources and referrals to gifted families. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 650-238-4400.
Anabel Jensen, Ph.D., is President and Co-Founder of Six Seconds, The Emotional Intelligence Network, CEO of Synapse School in Menlo Park, Full Professor and Department Chair at Notre Dame de Namur University where she teaches graduate students who are completing either a master’s degree or a teacher’s credential. Dr. Jensen is the 2012 recipient of the California Association for the Gifted Distinguished Service Award from the Bay Area Region, and she serves as Principal Advisor to Gifted Support Center. She may be reached at email@example.com.
Image provided by Melissa Miller & Vinnie Fernandez, PAMP’s Lead Photographers and co-owners of C’est Jolie Photograph
Goleman, D. (2006). Emotional Intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.
Medina, J. (2010). Brain Rules for Baby. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
Stone, K. F., Dillehunt, H. Q. (1978). Self Science: The Subject is Me. Santa Monica, CA: Goodyear Publishing Co.