My first day back and I was dreading it. Not because of the end of term but because I had been off after the loss of my Father, the funeral having taken place four days before my 25th birthday. A letter had been sent home to inform parents. Needless to say it was not a usual first day back and it was a grey morning.
We teach our children the importance of sharing and caring and using kind words. We ensure they know their ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’, and we smile when we see them using them.
“Are you ok?”
“Would you like a turn?”
It is the teaching of empathy that is seldom recognised by parents, by their friends and even by us sometimes; an important skill that not all of us have mastered as adults. We just know that when we are having an off day our children know what to say or do to make us feel better. I arrived at 3.10 unscathed. We had done our usual: book bags, coats, letters, water bottles and lunchboxes (with the usual few still looking for a lunchbox that they don’t have). We got settled at our tables.
“What went well today?” I asked, like I always do at the end of the day. One of my quiet boys put his hand up. “Tell me what you enjoyed today then.” I said.
He looked at me and simply said “I am sorry.”
I was lost, “What are you sorry for? You have nothing to be sorry about!”
He got out of his chair and walked over to me “ I’m sorry your dad died” and hugged me. “It’ll be ok”, he whispered as he went back to his chair.
Our current system has many flaws but one thing that we are mastering in many schools is the ability to look after our children’s emotional needs. We are parents at school: we comfort, we reassure and in return we reap what we put in. Our children adore us boundaries and all. Children won’t develop empathy unless they are given opportunities to and that doesn’t involve sitting at a table. Is emotional intelligence something that can be assessed? Does moulding the mind of the future always have to involve a pencil?
That child went home none the wiser of what he had achieved and I left school on what turned out to be a sunny day after all.
Below are five tips on how you can help nurture children's emotional intelligence:
1. Create a safe environment. It is always said, but unless children see each other as a big family where they all annoy, compete (in healthy measures) and care for one another it is harder for them to actually experience different emotions. Every child brings a new experience and past to the classroom and therefore new behaviours and emotions. Unless the children care for one another how they would a family member they won't be bothered about Amy's cat that's poorly and as a result will not be able to make Amy feel better.
2. 'Be the best that you can be' is my favourite thing to say at school. As cliched as this sounds, many children are not always confident enough to believe that they can, which is why it is important that we praise them constantly and allow those around them to recognise their achievements and efforts. It is essential that children understand that 'being the best' is just as much about being a kind, generous, thoughtful and reflective person as it is being good at subjects.
3. In order for children to be emotionally intelligence they need to understand the meaning of words like 'sorry'. We ask children to apologise but an apology means nothing to the child saying it or the child that's been hurt if they are used to saying/hearing it constantly throughout the day. In my class the children understand that sorry means they shouldn't do it again. Of course this does not mean they won't do it again; but when they do there is an immediate reference point that is understood clearly by all parties and so all involved understand what sorry means. Thus when Bob steals Jane's pencil for the second time in a day, he has to recognise that his actions/words need to change in order for Jane to feel better.
4. Allow children time to reflect on a situation. They may suggest something profound or something unusual, regardless, they need time to think about a situation. How did they end up slapping George when five minutes ago they were playing calmly with toys? I think often children are sent to the thinking chair to think about their behaviour, but it is also a great time for them to think about what they should have done or how the situation could now be made better.
5. Adults are often told to 'walk a mile in another person's shoes' but children need to be able to see why that is important. Children need the opportunity to consider the 'hows' and 'whys'. I ask children why do you think that happened? How could you make it better? Why did you feel like that? Children's emotional intelligence, similar to the core subjects, are at different levels when we are at school and we need to, as teachers find a way to nurture them at the appropriate level.