Ask the School Psychologist...|
by Beth Bruno, Ed.M., M.A.
Building Emotional Intelligence
Alan was nine years old when I met him. He was a student in a special class I taught (in a public school) for children who had trouble learning in large groups. There were 10 children in the class. Even in this small group he would only complete assignments while sitting under his desk or huddled under a round table off to one side where we did group projects. While other children sat around the table, Alan curled up underneath, carefully covering his work with his hands or his sweater, so that no one could see what he was doing.
I watched him carefully and could tell that he was writing words, numbers and sentences, depending on what the assignment called for. After he finished, he would either wad up the paper and throw it in the trash, or he would scribble over it heavily with a black crayon. At the end of the day, I fished his papers out of the trash and scraped away the black scribbling in order to find out what he was learning and processing from each lesson.
On each assignment nearly every answer was correct. Sentences were well-constructed and thoughtful. Alan was clearly learning at grade level but lacking in social skills and self-confidence. If one were to measure his EQ (emotional quotient) and compare it to his IQ (intelligence quotient) there would be a huge discrepancy between the scores.
When I met Alan's mother, more pieces of the puzzle fell into place. She made little or no eye contact with me and spoke in such a quiet voice I had to lean in close to hear what she had to say. She was worried about Alan, because she wanted him to make friends and learn to get along with the kids in the neighborhood. At my request, she allowed me to visit the family at home, as a way of building a connection between home and school, in hopes that Alan would feel more comfortable relating to me if he knew that his mother accepted me.
Little by little, Alan came out of his shell. I praised his academic skills and showed him that his abilities compared favorably to peers. As a class, we did much of our work in pairs and small groups, so the children could learn how to listen to one another, share ideas and build skills cooperatively. The children identified and talked about their feelings, told stories to pictures, illustrated personal stories, talked about how others feel in different situations and focused in on resolving conflicts whenever they arose (which was often). Lessons were more about life skills than academics (although the lessons were built around academic content). The children needed to build cognition, to be sure, but they needed to do so within a social context if they were ever to truly succeed. Intelligence wasn't the issue for a single one of them.
They needed to acquire the building blocks of emotional intelligence. Here is a list of some of the personality traits children need to acquire from infancy on, traits that we as parents and teachers can help them develop by setting examples, direct teaching, encouragement, observation, story reading and storytelling, friendship experiences and dozens of other ways.
Which of these traits do you think are most important? How do you instill them in your children? As you think about these qualities, please send me your thoughts, so I can share your ideas with others. I think the development of emotional intelligence is as important as the development of cognitive skills, don't you?
Alan's mother became an active participant in her son's education that year. She volunteered frequently in class, realizing that her tendency to stay on the periphery was hindering his development. In subsequent years he was able to ease into regular, mainstream classes and graduate from high school with his peers. Working on his social and emotional skills and helping his family do the same was, in my opinion, what made his improved school adjustment and success possible.
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