Children Benefit from Emotional Education

Children Benefit from Emotional Education

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Have you experienced moments when how you feel is more important to you than how much knowledge, skill or wealth you have?

I am sure you've heard about many Olympic champions, Oscar award winners and other peak performers who have all the wealth, knowledge and skill to outsmart every competitor in their field and still feel lonely, unhappy and restless. They never learned how to deal with such feelings. Some retreat for a year or two to examine their lives and sort out their emotions and then for the first time they could feel like winners.

When I ask people how I can help them, they often say, "I just want to be happy." We all want to feel good about ourselves and to be happy. What, after all, do others expect from us? Perhaps, the answer may lie in an age-old saying, "People don't care how much you know. They want to know how much you care."

Interestingly, we don't take physical health and fitness for granted any more. Most people now recognize that they have to make a conscious effort to put in the required time and effort to remain physically healthy, and that they likely need some guidance to attain that goal.

However, we still take emotional health and education for granted. The obvious need for anger management training due to the intensity of violence in our society is finally creating awareness of the importance of emotional education. But, we seem to take a very narrow view of emotional education, such as an "anger management class" for out of control anger. It's often too little, too late.

We need a "head start" program for emotional education. Emotional make-up is largely constituted during early childhood. Parents are the first and most important emotional educators. But there is a problem; parents have too little time for something so intangible. Academic achievement is seen as important because future career depend so heavily on it. Likewise sports have tangible rewards. But, emotional education! What would that do? Interestingly, career, success and personal sense of well-being depend on emotional fitness.

Caring and ambitious parents hurry all the time and make use of every spare minute in bringing kids from school to the soccer field, from dancing class to music lesson. Mom picks up the family dinner from a fast food restaurant and feels guilty for doing so. Dad is still rooting for his son at the football game. Rarely is the entire family at home together to eat at the family dinner table. Then both parents feel guilty for having missed out on sitting down together and bonding as a family.

Many parents are hyper-parenting. They are trying to provide every possible educational and growth experience so their children are the smartest and the best. But the development and enhancement of intelligence and leadership qualities in parts depends on the emotional environment. During early childhood, such aspects of emotional environment as love, respect, patience and following your child's leads create greater opportunities for overall development and learning than any class or a course can.

Men spend more time at work when they become fathers. Researchers at the University of Washington followed 1200 men for 25 years and found that fathers increased the number of hours they put in at the office when they had a baby. Furthermore, they spent more time if it was a baby boy. To be more specific, fathers spent 84 more hours at office after their first son's birth, but only about 31 hours more after a daughter's.

Even toddlers begin to show differences with regard to their sensitivity to other people's emotional upsets. Some pay close attention to others' emotional expressions and may become upset while others may cast a furtive glance and act unconcerned. Why do some children become more emotionally attentive while others simply tune out?

According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, a large part of the difference in sensitivity to others' emotions, also termed as, "empathic concerns," depends on how their parents train them. Children turn out to be more empathetic when their parents call their attention to the distress their behavior caused to the aggrieved party. For example, when a child says something hurtful to his playmate, such parents should say, "Look how sad you made him (or her) feel" instead of, "That was mean!"

When children's attention is called to other people's pain and they are asked to think about how they would feel in a similar situation, they tend to become more empathetic and attuned to other people's feelings.

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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