We all want our kids to be happy, healthy and successful. Success is not only about personal and academic achievement; it requires social competence and the ability to make positive connections. Helping kids learn to make and keep friends is particularly relevant in today's global society, which is fraught with so much distress, distain, and disabuse. Can people connect in meaningful ways that allow for relationships to develop, grow and mature despite everyday challenges? Can children be taught the skills necessary for loving and lasting connections? As a psychologist, educator and founder of a school for very young children with more than a quarter century of experience, I believe the answer to these elusive questions is a resounding YES.
Learning to communicate effectively and constructively and to manage our own emotions and those of others is what helps us connect. This “emotional intelligence” allows for empathy and compassion to develop - the glue that binds us— and encourages others to stick with us through life’s ups and downs.
Emotions are the first means of communication for us all and they remain the universal language that can connect or divide us. Emotions are central in all personal and professional relationships and are the engine that drives our behavior, in the classroom or the boardroom. How competently we cope and deal with our emotions will affect how successful we will be in our interactions and relationships with others - with friends and family, classmates and colleagues, peers and partners. These skills require a keen awareness and understanding of emotions.
The ability to constructively express and manage the intensity of one's emotions and to recognize the emotions of others is critical to social competence. Interestingly and most importantly, the foundation of these skills is laid in early childhood - within the first three years of life.
When we teach these skills to very young children we see the social, personal and academic benefits, right from the start. When children are taught how to constructively express and manage their feelings instead of acting out aggressively, shutting down, turning away or melting down, they learn to understand and be sensitive to their siblings, playmates and all those who are significant in their lives. This not only facilitates interaction, but more importantly makes children better friends. Children's quarrels are often outgrowths of time spent together in close quarters. But when children learn to moderate the intensity of their emotions and act in ways that engage rather than turn others away, they develop the ability to empathize, negotiate, compromise, solve problems and resolve conflicts. The results are friendships and skills that can last a lifetime.
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