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Parenting and TALK

Four months ago as I write this, I was sitting in the back seat of my daughter’s car next to my then 19-month-old granddaughter strapped into her safety seat. Her mother was driving.

“Mama, where are we going?” she called out.

“To one of your favorite parks,” her mother answered, and named the park.

“Oh, I love that. Caya is very excited,” the granddaughter said. Her name is Caya. “Are you excited, Mama?”

“Definitely, I am excited. Especially since I am with you and Bapi,” her mother answered. I am Bapi, which distinguishes me from Papi.  

Today, I called my daughter and Caya, now 23 months, and asked Caya how she was feeling,

“I am feeling very happy,” she said.

At other times when I call, she might answer, “I am feeling upset at the moment,” or “I am feeling sad,” and then briefly explain. One time, she was sad because their puppy had hurt itself.

Preparing for Precociousness

Not two years old yet, she comments on just about everything she encounters, asks questions whenever she doesn’t know about something, can count to 100 and past, and has been able to recite the alphabet almost since she could talk shortly after her first birthday. Her pediatrician estimates she has a 15,000 word vocabulary. You can have a reasonable conversation with her. Most children her age have a 500-word vocabulary.

My main point here isn’t that my granddaughter was born precocious or emotionally aware. It is how she got to this place that has value to parents reading this. She learned her way to where she is because her parents tutored themselves in parenting best practices and brought some of their own natural inclinations for open discussion and sharing to talking to their children. In large part, they talked their daughter, my granddaughter, towards precociousness and emotionally awareness.

Talk to Children: The Science

To understand how that happened, let’s start with some relevant brain science:

The human brain has 500 billion neurons. If all the brain fibers could be put in a line, they would go round the world twice. By the age of four or five a child’s brain is about 85% developed. This powerful  brain absorbs information that the child’s “conscious” part of the brain isn’t aware of, recording everything from words spoken to moods and visuals to patterns of behavior modeled by parents and others.

There is a famous story in medical lore of an adult patient who suffered brain damage in an accident and lost part of his memory. One day after his accident, he sat down at a piano and played a full Mozart concert, even though he had never played a piano or taken a lesson in his life. But he was a Mozart aficionado and had listened to Mozart recordings relentlessly in his life. Some knowledge of Mozart remained in his brain, below the level of conscious knowledge, until the accident helped surface it.

Talking Fills the Brain

So, it matters beyond measure what you feed your child’s brain, especially in these three areas: Information, Context and Emotional Awareness.

Here is what Caya’s parents do that you might consider in your parenting:

  • First, they talk to Caya almost nonstop, sharing information, explaining the outside world and their own movements and intentions at the moment.
  • They use imaginative playtime with Caya to share information and possibilities, such as choices a doll might like to make.
  • They understand that the more words and definitions and possibilities they share, the more will be recorded in their child’s brain and the more neural circuits will be built, helping Caya deal with contingencies as she grows.  

It can sound like this:

  • “What’s Emma’s favorite color?  What Is her favorite thing to do?”
  • “I have a sense Emma likes to play outdoors and her favorite thing at the park is the sandpit. What do you think?”

My daughter does with Caya what I did with my daughter. I was frequently narrating and explaining the outer world to them even in their infant stages–“This is an oak tree. Like other trees, it converts carbon into oxygen” –knowing it was being absorbed. Her mother, my wife, shared freely about the relational world between people and within themselves.

Now, my daughter organically just does the same, even more so than her parents did with her. It makes a difference.

So, talk. A lot. Do not assume it is wasted on a child. It builds information circuits and crucial encouragement for a child’s development and self-expression as it grows.

The EQuip Our Kids! Store has several games and toys that you can use to fuel talking with your child.

Interacting with your kids is sometimes challenging, but here are six reasons you shouldn’t yell at your children.

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Mirroring Emotional Intelligence for Your Child

It’s helpful for parents to understand the meaning of mirror neurons and how to use them to the best advantage of your children.

From the web:

“A mirror neuron is a brain neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primate species. (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neuron)

Mirror neurons allow us to learn through imitation. They enable us to reflect body language, facial expressions, and emotions. Mirror neurons play an essential part in our social life. They are key for the child development, as well as relationships and education.” (from https://blog.cognifit.com/mirror-neurons/)

What this means for parents is that whatever you do–how you speak and what you say, your body language and your style–are being implanted in the memory stick of your child’s brain thanks to mirror neurons. There your example remains, for your child to replicate in many ways.

To raise children with the capacity of emotional intelligence is to model best practices for them in your life and particularly in your exchanges with them. 

What is Emotional Intelligence? It is the ability to manage your feelings and behaviors and relationships in a caring, productive and responsive way. 

Here are some basics.

Modeling Self-Awareness and Emotional Transparency (Rather Than Acting Out)

  • Parents are humans who experience frustration and at times irritability.  But instead of acting frustrated and cranky, you can “mirror” for you children coping by taking a few deep breaths and telling your kids that it’s been a long day and you’re a little tense. In this way, you model how to manage frustration in a positive way.  Kids need to learn to name their feelings rather than act them out.
  • We all want to be seen and appreciated. Model it by openly sharing why you love, admire or appreciate your partner – this to your partner in front of the kids. Do the same with your kids every day – note the qualities in them you want to show appreciation for. 
  • Make it a norm to discuss your day and ask your kids about their days at school, to encourage open communication.
  • When your kids act out, empathize and encourage them to talk it out. This teaches your child that her emotions are valid.

Self-Management

  • Patience takes practice. From early childhood, kids gradually learn to manage strong emotions and to wait for gratification. Parents can teach and model patience and poise for kids.
  • Emotions are normal. To be punished for negative ones is experiencing the opposite of a parent who is emotionally intelligent – and you can expect your kids to model that. As much as possible share your feelings conversationally and encourage them to do the same.
  • Emotions run high when we are tired or hungry. When you help your kids understand that they’re extra frustrated because it’s close to bedtime or mealtime, you are helping them understand that their feelings are temporary and this frustration will abate.

Social Awareness

  • Through their childhood, kids do best when they learn to put their experience in perspective. Parents teach and reinforce these lessons in an empathetic way by sharing your own wider and empathetic perspective on events. You can also reinforce lessons by reading stories that reflect these values and through creative play.
  • Throughout the day, talk out recent playdates and other events with your child.
  • The height of social awareness is understanding the point of view of others in a non-judgmental way. So, when you talk about others, seek to explain the forces driving them, including the societal impediments as you understand them such as race or poverty.

Relationship Skills

  • Learning to maintain friendships and to get along with family is vital. Kids learn that building and maintaining relationships takes work at home.
  • Good listening rather than shutting others down is a superb relationship skill to model. The reminder for this is almost biblical: “Seek first to understand and then be understood.” Apply it with kids as well.
  • Every time you mediate a fight with siblings, you are helping kids learn relationship-nurturing skills such as conflict resolution.
  • When you help your kids plan a party with the goal of what would create the most satisfaction and connection for party goers, you are modeling consideration of others.
  • When you contact a friend who is upset, talk your partner through a tough day in front of the kids, or make sure you keep social plans with the kids, you are also modeling good relationship skills.

Decision Making

  • Deciding among a series of good or bad choices is challenging. Kids learn this well – or don’t– from their parents.
  • When you allow your preschoolers to pick from among three outfits or let them pick one toy to bring on an errand, you are providing them an opportunity to practice making a decision.
  • When you are having a hard time deciding what to order at a cafe and verbalize this, you are letting your kids know that decisions can be hard for grown-ups too.

All this can be hard work. Parenting is a tough but important job! Mirror neurons are one way to use biology in your favor. Learn more about the benefits of Emotional Intelligence your child will enjoy because of your hard work.

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12 Crucial Facts About Emotional Intelligence

  1. Schools that implement comprehensive SEL as basic curriculum see all the good markers go up. These include improvements in engagement in learning, higher test scores (by an average of 11 points or 20%), responsible behaviors, healthy emotional states and quality relationships with others.  Also in: clarity of thinking, good decision making, creativity,  communications skills, empathy, student self-confidence, and teacher and students satisfaction.  Learn more.
  2. These same schools see all negative markers decline, often dramatically. These include violence, bullying, racial and class bias, drug usage, suicides, acting-out behaviors, teacher abuse, screen addiction, low attendance and low graduation and college rates. Learn more.
  3. EQ skills dissolve, in children and adults, their alienation, inability to process anger, emotional suffering, violence and abusiveness – and blocks to learning. 
  4. Nothing in the human toolbox has been proven to uplift children, schools and youth mental health better. When children develop emotional intelligence (EQ) they problem solve and help each other. They reinforce each other’s learning and relate to other people with understanding and empathy. They resolve conflicts and establish and maintain positive relationships and high academic results. And they are much happier.
  5. The earlier children learn EQ skills and mindset the better. Children can start to be taught EQ at home from birth. A study of 4-year old preschool children found that 25 years later their lives in almost every dimension were in considerably better shape than those of a similar control group that lacked EQ training in pre-school. Learn more.
  6. Neuroscience research helps explain and validates a child’s improvements in behavior, performance, brain function and emotional life.  Learn more.
  7. Research reveals EQ is more relevant than IQ to personal success, quality lives, health and happiness – and to positive outcomes for communities and workplaces. See the Harvard Business Review case study (subscription required).
  8. Well into adulthood, EQ-trained students experience significantly lower rates of mental and physical health issues, crime, conflict, hard drug usage, racial biases,  and welfare and poverty than populations that do not experience the training, lowering the cost of government and employer remedial programs. Learn more
  9. Most violence, crime, rape, child sexual and other abuse and human conflict and racism  stems for low EQ. Learn more.
  10. Only 10-15% of pre-K-12  U.S. schools (public, private and charter) implement full-on social-emotional learning curriculum. The reason is that 90% of parents and the public don’t even know SEL exists – hence little to no calls on schools and legislators to prioritize and fund it.
  11. Long-term studies show on net balance that SEL saves $11 to $15 per pupil in remedial costs over the costs of implementing it.  Learn more.
  12. Many employers are already providing adult social and emotional skills training for employees. Lots more employers – it’s becoming a wave now – are putting high EQ at the top of their hiring qualities because higher EQ throughout the workplace demonstrably produces better productivity, more profits and happier workplace with higher retention rates. Learn more.

(Image courtesy of PikRepo)