I think there is a shortage of emotional intelligence in this world. Driving in Boston alone is enough to convince me that other adults haven’t learned how to take turns (try merging on the highway!), wait patiently (left hand turns), or manage emotions, (road rage.) Civilized behavior in a society does not include honking and finger waving, yelling out your window at strangers, and trying to cut people off in traffic to save a fraction of a second in your commute.
Part of this is people living in crowded areas have so many daily interactions with strangers. Another part is a lack of manners. But I’m convinced that emotional education is an important missing part to making all our lives just a little more civil. To that goal, I watch Daniel Tiger.
For those of you who don’t know, Daniel Tiger is a cartoon on PBS that has the same characters as Mr. Rogers neighborhood. Just like Fred Rogers created a warm, accepting imaginary world where children could explore different situations and how to navigate their emotions, so Daniel Tiger learns how to manage his emotions.
Daniel Tiger’s songs are infinitely quotable. In our house, we sing “When you feel so mad, that you want to roar….take a deep breath, and count to four!” It reminds my preschooler, (and me) that it’s alright to be angry, but some behaviors are not okay, even when you’re angry. Daniel Tiger also conquers jealous, sharing, and fear about new experiences. From Daniel Tiger I learned that sometimes an apology is not sufficient when you’ve wronged someone. Sometimes you need to make amends, or as Daniel Tiger sings, “Saying I’m sorry is the first step, then how can I help?”
Recently at a party, someone hijacked the conversation and was being very negative. It was all I could do not to burst out with my rendition of “When something seems bad, turn it around…and find something good!” This idea that we can manage our emotions, and chose our perspective in the face of difficulty is very empowering to little people.
Academic skills, social skills, and general intelligence do not guarantee success or happiness in this life. Emotional intelligence includes the ability to delay gratification, such as the now famous Stanford Marshmallow Challenge. In this, children were offered a small reward immediately (1 marshmallow) or a larger reward if they could wait and not eat the marshmallow for 15 minutes, during which the experimenter left the room. Children who could resist the immediate gratification were found to have achieved better measurable life outcomes.
What I found especially interesting was HOW the children resisted the temptation. Some sat on their hands or talked to the marshmallow. These reminded me of some strategies adults use to counter impulse control. Some freeze their credit cards to control spending, erase the phone numbers of their ex to prevent calling them, or in my case— don’t keep chips or Girl Scout cookies in the house. If they are in the house, make no mistake, I will eat them until their are gone without a break. If I don’t buy them, I don’t eat them. In college, I would make myself physically go to the library. I couldn’t make myself focus, but I could make my body walk to the library. Once there, the focus came a little easier.
As an adult, I’m still learning how to deal with anger and frustration. I’m learning that it’s not okay to yell at people. During fights, it’s not okay to call names or use bad language. Fair fighting strategies and communication can make or break a relationship, including marriage. I remember reading about the “Magic Ratio” for healthy relationships. Apparently it takes five positive interactions to balance the feel of one negative. I try to keep that in mind when deciding whether to criticize my husband for leaving his clothes on the floor, again. Having a healthy relationship is a more important goal than trying to habit train on this particular issue. I do however, remind my husband of that exact thing when he notes my inferior dishwasher loading abilities. These are some of the minor every day stresses that people need to learn to tolerate. Frustration, annoyance, anger, resentments, and other negative emotions will have to be experienced and managed.
Daniel Golemans amazing book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter more than IQ” talks at length about how nurturing in the family creates people with better emotional intelligence. This allows people to navigate social situations, communicate, and maintain relationships…the stuff of success. He also posits that crime and violence may be due more to a lack of emotional intelligence than other causes. I can’t help but frame the current situation in Baltimore in these terms. The police officers who lacked empathy for the human being in their custody and the rioters who don’t know how to deal with their anger at the unjust death. Circumstance and birth do not need to define your behavior. Mr. Goleman declares that “temperament is not destiny.” Even poor emotional education in chidlhood can be remedied. The brain can be re educated through psychotherapy.
Investing in emotional education for children would save society the cost in both lives and money of adults who become criminals or seek to manage their emotions with drugs or alcohol. Daniel Tiger is a great start. Parents and teachers reading “Emotional Intelligence” is a good next step. The ultimate goal is to becoming emotionally intelligent ourselves.
I’m very interested in the practical strategies people use in day to day life. I myself have found that rude comments from people are best met with silence and a perplexed look. Maybe a witty retort would work better, but I’m worried about escalating. My children and I have role played difficult situations with dolls, such as how to tell a friend you don’t like the way they are playing, and asking them to stop.
How do you manage your impulses or anger? How do you educated you children to deal with their emotions and challenging social situations?