A Personal Perspective
I am the youngest of four boys in my family by nearly a decade. As a result of this I am the 24 year old uncle of my brothers’ combined nine nephews and nieces. It has been so intriguing to watch all of the little rug rats grow and begin to take on their own personalities. In addition to this I have been able to see the different parenting styles in which my brothers and sister-in-laws raise their children. The other day I was at my brother’s house and his wife and him got in an argument regarding their oldest son, who is five, and how his crying is becoming an issue because it’s affecting his ability to make friends. Now this particular nephew of mine has always been a crier and often times he cries in situations that he really shouldn’t; for example if he drops a toy or piece of food, or if the DVD player starts skipping during his favorite movie.
Being from a family of predominantly boys, we all noticed the crying from a young age, but at the same time we are highly respectful of each other and do not press the subject of “this is how you should raise your child”. Now during the argument that my brother and sister-in-law had I happened to be sitting in the room. My sister-in-law asked me what I thought about the situation and I gave my assessment from a social intelligence – neuroscience perspective.
In this particular case my nephew resorts to crying because there is a swell of negative emotions that runs through him do to an event, such as dropping a toy. It’s important to remember that young children are feeling a lot of these emotions for some of the first times in their lives and processing these emotions takes time to understand even at a basic level. Additionally while children are growing they are getting surges of hormones that could effect emotions. The one thing I noticed about my nephew is that when he starts crying his mother takes immediate action to correct the situation to stop his crying, like picking up the fallen toy. The crying stops because the toy has been picked up but that doesn’t actually correct the situation in the long run.
When it comes to emotions it is important to complete the emotion, as in feel the emotion, recognize the emotion, detach and move on. In the case of my nephew it’s clear that he only recognizes the emotion of sadness, but he does not have the opportunity to complete the emotion. His parents will do anything to stop the crying as fast as they can, and by doing so they inadvertently deny his the self processing and understanding of his emotions. Feel à Think à React – never forget this!
I have a niece who is the exact same age as my nephew I just described however, she is not a crier. The reason being is that her parents let her “cry it out”, which means they let her get the negative emotions completely out of her. This might result in her being put in her room to scream and cry, but it never lasts for long. Now it should be stated that there are times that crying is okay like an injury or the loss of a pet. However, on the whole I am referring to the times when crying is not an accurate behavior to take in regards to an action. One thing I do with my nephew when I am with him that helps him is I talk him through his emotions. I was recently with him at a pizza party and he was playing with his spider-man toy and he dropped it off the table. Naturally the tears started rolling, but I didn’t pick up his toy, instead I asked him, “Why are you crying?”, “Where is your toy?”, and “Can you get your toy and will that make you not feel this way anymore?” The end result was my nephew was able to understand the emotion he was feeling and understand that he would be able to fix the situation by his actions, such as picking up spider-man. Overall I hope it makes him more comfortable with future emotions to not result so quickly to tears. It’s obvious that this will take both time and effort from family.
The Big Picture
One of the major cornerstones to mastering social intelligence is accurately understanding the emotions of others around you in addition to your own emotions. What I am beginning to realize is that my nephew is not alone in the way he is raised in regards to his emotions. It’s a growing trend in our society today that we should prevent our kids from feeling negative emotions. Last summer I went to a little league game where there were no winners or losers, and just the other week I spoke to a P.E. teacher who was angry because they [the administration] didn’t allow him to play dodge ball anymore in his classes because kids got sad when their team lost. I agree that kids should be happy but not at the expense of their future. Negative emotions are a part of life. All emotions are; good, bad or indifferent. The goal should not be to keep kids from feeling negative emotions, but rather to help them better understand their negative emotions and to have them learn to deal with them properly.
It’s important to take the time to work with children to help them understand their emotions and other peoples’ emotions. Help them understand the emotional link between people and by doing so you’re helping them take the proper steps to becoming more socially intelligent as they grow and develop. The most recent research indicates that there is a staggering decline in the social intelligence of America’s children. After all, would you rather be a four year-old learning to cope with sadness and anger for the first time, or would you rather be a 16 year-old learning to deal with those emotions for the first time? A bright future relies on producing more socially intelligent children. I only hope parents and teachers are up to the task.