Sadly, teaching strategies for proper social and emotional health are often unorganized and conflicting. Parents are left feeling like they need to choose between teaching children to have self-control and teaching children to be emotionally heard. These choices seem like opposites to most people. But, to a person who has true emotional intelligence, both of these choices can be the same choice. A child or adult can self-govern themselves and express feelings at the same time. We need to stop disconnecting these two actions from each other.
Our children need to be heard now more than ever, but the result of all that hearing should be bonding and positive empowerment for the child, not excuse-making, tribalism, emotional loneliness, deceit, disconnection, self-loathing, and disrespect for parental authority. Unfortunately, some social emotional learning curricula unknowingly leads children to experience these negative results.
Parents, the greatest influence on children, are best equipped to raise emotionally mature children and need to do so now more than ever. Our newly, emotionally immature world is pushing children into submission and conflict at alarming rates, all while attempting to teach social emotional learning [SEL].
Not all social emotional learning is created equal. SEL is all the craze right now in education because it’s heavily funded, and growing bullying and suicide numbers identify clear needs for increasing emotional intelligence. But, many school-based social emotional learning programs miss the mark, and some even cause social and emotional problems by singling out specific types of people as social targets. Whenever we single out a specific demographic of people as targets for mistreatment, it doesn’t help them. It puts them into an oppression box that they can’t escape. It’s always better to teach the principles of respect and understanding to all groups without turning some groups into oppressed classes of people. The only way to keep all people equal is to teach principles and application. Singling out doesn’t help.
The best environment for social emotional learning will always be the home, and the best teachers will always be loving, emotionally mature parents. So, how can parents raise emotionally mature children? By working on their own emotional maturity, especially because many parents were raised by emotionally immature parents themselves.
Brian was raised by emotionally immature parents, so he became emotionally immature, too. Brian’s parents were distant, self-involved, and rejecting of Brian’s need for bonding and nurture. They were busy, so he survived childhood the best he could, but he always felt emotionally alone, misunderstood, and entitled to control his surroundings.
Do It Yourself Maturity
After years of working with families, legislators, and family advocates, I’ve recognized drastic effectiveness differences of those seeking influence. Those who are calm, understanding, well spoken, and gain the greatest respect on all sides of issues are usually those who have a level of emotional maturity that surpasses others. The emotionally immature parents and legislators who are indifferent or volatile may turn heads and manipulate outcomes, but they don’t gain respect or transform hearts and minds.
Increasing emotional maturity is possible at any age. Years ago, while doing treatment foster care, I realized that the skills I was teaching my foster children were transformational principles that could apply to any age person or situation, not just childhood behavior. At this point, I made the conscious effort to transform my own heart so that I could be a better teacher for my children. One of the key skills I taught the children was a skill called Disagreeing Appropriately. The steps to this skill are:
- Look at the person
- Keep a calm face, voice, and body
- Say that you understand the other person’s point of view
- Share your point of view
- Listen to what they have to say
- Say “okay” (meaning you really understand them, even if you don’t agree)
- Drop the subject (don’t think about it anymore)
It occurred to me that even though there are many good emotional intelligence lessons that I could teach and apply, this simple skill was one of the easiest ways to increase my emotional maturity and that of my children.
When a person has a Disagree Appropriately mindset, then they automatically bond and gain understanding while also understanding others.
Bonding with parents is the single-most important part of good social emotional learning. Sadly, this lesson is often missing from most SEL curricula. If parents want their child to feel understood and be understanding of others, then they need to be bonded to each other. This takes time and deliberate effort.
What The Skill Does For Us
Teach your children to love talking with you by responding to their comments and taking time to look them in the eyes so that they know they’ve been heard. Parent calmness and open communication creates good bonds.
Remember the boomerang effect. Whatever emotion a person throws at someone else often comes right back to them, just like a boomerang comes back when it’s thrown. This is why we need to choose which emotions we want to send out.
Teach your family how to choose calmness during the moments when they feel like they are losing emotional control. Most people need a skill set for this and need to practice doing it quite a few times before calmness can become a regular communication choice. Keeping a calm face, voice, and body is the perfect boomerang to send out.
Teach how feelings lead to thoughts, which lead to emotions. This process happens quickly but doesn’t have to be involuntary. Our thoughts are controllable and have the power to change our emotions if we want to change them. This knowledge is empowering! It helps children see that destructive or nonproductive thoughts can be stopped and changed so that they can choose productive thoughts and emotions like love, happiness, or connectivity. Calmness is not an accident, it’s a choice. Anger isn’t someone else’s fault, it’s a choice that originated from a thought and feeling.
Understanding how emotions are produced doesn’t mean that a person should stuff emotions. On the contrary. When a person knows how they create emotions, then it frees them to self-assess and make deliberate choices instead of become the victim of their own emotions. It also gives them more to talk about when they are discussing their feelings and problem solving with their parents. True emotional intelligence should lead to more conversation, not less.
Next, seek to understand. When a person thinks about where the other person is coming from, then they are better able to let go of emotion and engage the logical, problem-solving part of the brain. This also enables more bonding.
After considering the other person’s point of view, the person is better able to share their point of view with empathy and calmness. This type of communication is a great indicator of emotional maturity.
An emotionally mature person doesn’t always need to have everyone agree with her. She can accept that sometimes a person will hold to a different point of view, but ultimately she has to accept authority or that she can’t control others.
Children learn to follow law and respect authority by being expected to respect the authority of their parents. Saying okay is a lesson in not always getting things your way. For the person truly dedicated to a cause, that “okay” really means “I can appreciate your point of view, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying to create positive change where possible.” It is a sign of deep respect despite a difference of opinions.
Dropping the subject is likely the hardest part of the skill for most people. Dropping the subject is an emotionally healthy action that moves a person forward instead of keeping them stuck in a moment that they can’t control.
Emotionally mature people can accept that they can’t change every situation or control every outcome, but they can keep themselves moving forward and control themselves.
Even though there are many factors that lead to emotional maturity, simply having a Disagree Appropriately mindset is likely one of the single most effective ways to increase emotional intelligence and understanding, which is vital for true social emotional learning. It is my hope that as our society works to improve social emotional learning SEL, that we don’t get off track by chasing social/political/health trends, but instead teach true principles that lead to emotional freedom and maturity.
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