Your kids are learning math, English and science in the classroom, but what about emotional intelligence, resiliency and conscientiousness?
While there’s so much emphasis on measuring success through grades and academic achievement, kids need to learn about emotional stability, managing relationships and other life skills ranging from optimism to determination and control, experts say.
“We have to look at it as an art and science just like we teach kids math or spelling – we can’t assume kids know these skills,” Dr. Shimi Kang, a Vancouver-based psychiatrist and parenting author, told Global News.
“There are so many benefits that last over a lifetime from understanding mental health to better job prospects, financial stability, strong relationships. These are things we want for our kids,” Ann Douglas, a Canadian parenting expert and bestselling author, said.
Earlier this year, a University College London study identified five life skills that’ll bring people happiness, healthy aging, wealth and career success. The soft skills were:
Turns out, people who held onto these attributes and made them a part of who they are fared better in the long run across a handful of measures.
Douglas points to collaboration, problem-solving and empathy as other skills that are invaluable.
So how do we teach these skills to kids? The experts offered their suggestions:
Teach kids to give back: When Kang runs summer camps with kids, she includes “Contribution Fridays” – the kids work together as a team to make sandwiches for the homeless and dole out the food in shelters.
“They have to get the ingredients, make the sandwiches and decorate the lunch bags. It’s that common goal with a greater purpose and helps kids get along better,” Kang said.
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“They feel like they’re doing something important that matters to the world. It makes them feel happy and feel good,” she explained.
Kids can volunteer at an old folks’ home, a homeless shelter or at a local toy drive. The act of charity teaches them to give back to their community and the intrinsic value that comes with it.
Teach them to feel empathy: Challenge your child to be curious about other people’s feelings and perspectives on life. That way, they’ll consider what other people may be thinking or why they act the way they do, Douglas said.
The easiest way to do this is with the help of fictional characters in movies or books they may be fans of.
“Take the opportunity to step into the heads of other characters and ask why they think the main character or their stepsister acted that way. Ask your kids what he or she may be feeling,” Douglas said.
Give them space to make mistakes: Your kids need to learn that every action comes with a result, but you need to give them autonomy to make their choices, according to Alyson Schafer, a parenting expert and bestselling author based in Ontario.
Give them room on a smaller scale: If your daughter doesn’t want to wear bug spray, give her that wiggle room for one day. “If parents allow the outcome of the experience, she doesn’t wear bug spray and she’s now itchy,” Schafer said.
“It’s about understanding kids have a say in their lives and there is a cause and effect in what they do and the choices they make. Don’t rob kids of their ability to make decisions – give them chances to make small mistakes and have some agency in their lives,” Schafer said.
Teach kids resiliency and to look at the big picture: Life won’t always go our way and kids need to learn how to deal with disagreement that can feel so huge and overwhelming in the moment, Douglas said.
Your child could get berries all over their favourite sweater and they’re upset. Remind him or her that in a week, a month or a year from now, they probably won’t even remember.
Their classmates could be invited to a birthday party while they’re not. Acknowledge the hurt feelings but help them realize that the hurt will blow over.
“Explain to kids that it’s possible to deal with crushing disappointment in the moment and that it does get easier over time,” Douglas said.
“Humans are incredibly resilient. In the moment, it felt huge but pretty soon you move on.”
Share your own stories of how you dealt with disappointment or life’s curveballs, too.
Let your kids feel frustration: Your little ones can live in a bubble sometimes and they often get what they want. This doesn’t translate well in the real world, though.
“In a typical home, we put kids’ needs above everybody else’s. But in society you don’t always get your way,” Schafer said.
If you’ve prepped cereal and yogurt for breakfast but your child is whining for French toast, tell them they’ll have to wait until the weekend when there’s more time, Schafer said as an example.
“Emotional learning is understanding you don’t always get what you want, but you can wait and keep moving,” she said.
Teach them optimism and gratitude: Kang uses gratitude journals at her camp – kids draw pictures or write short paragraphs listing what they’re most grateful for.
“Gratitude is connected to emotional stability and internal control,” she explained.
It aids in helping kids look on the bright side when they’re grappling with tough times, too.
“We know how easy it is to get stuck in the glass-half-empty rut. Talk to kids about strategies when you’re feeling down,” Douglas said.
You can consciously remind yourself of things that are going well, practice self-care or spring into action by trying to find a solution to a problem.
Teach kids how to manage their emotions: It’s okay for your kids to see you grapple with life’s tricky times, experts say.
“Give them a peek behind the curtain sometimes. They can think grownups have their act totally together but there are processes you have to work through your emotions,” Douglas said.
You could tell your kids that you’re feeling frustrated and step away from your workspace to take a walk. Or you could say you’re feeling stressed so you’re turning to a workout or cooking to clear your head.
“Let them see there is a process and it’s not just like magic and your grumpy feelings go away,” Douglas said.
Teach your child the vast range of emotions: Kids may understand happiness, sadness and anger but there are far more emotions that fit in between.
Explain to kids that there are variations – irritation, impatience, annoyance, excitement and nervousness, to name a few.
“They all have nuanced meanings and this helps them spread out their understanding of emotions,” Kang said.
Then help your kids parse through their emotions. If they’re feeling fear, encourage them to question their thinking – is it the loud noise from the thunderstorm outside? Explain that it’s a rainy day and everyone is staying indoors with their families where it’s safe and cozy, Douglas said.
If your child’s playdate was cancelled at the last minute, ask them to consider if their friend had to go visit their grandma instead.
Don’t dismiss your child’s concerns either.
“The most powerful thing you can do is accept your child’s emotions,” Douglas said.
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