Before all non-essential businesses were closed, my family and I went to an electronics store with our face masks on. We thought we could look at options for a new laptop for my practice since I would have to transition to telemedicine instead of face-to-face visits. There were several lines outside the store, without clear signs to direct us. My husband and I decided to wait in separate lines, and my 8-year old daughter came with me. She looked up at me and asked, “Where’s daddy going?” I explained the situation and tried to control the frustration that I felt with having to wait in a line, not knowing if it was the right one. As we got to the door, we learned that no one was being allowed in. I felt deflated. I tried to hide my frustration, but my daughter could tell I was not happy.
As a child psychiatrist, I have to pause and remind myself to model positivity during adversity. I also know that our children learn from not only our active teaching but also our modeling. However, in that moment, my daughter picked up on my emotional state, and I could have used it as a teaching moment.
We are in this pandemic for an unknown period of time, and I think it’s possible that we create some value from it by using the time to be with our children in a different way, a way that could improve their lives and their futures.
I wonder about using this time at home to enhance the lives or ourselves and our children by focusing on what values are important but may not be so obvious. I believe these values are best encompassed by the ideas of soft skills and emotional intelligence. These can be taught at home, whether there’s a pandemic or not.
The concept of soft skills is a concept associated with the employment arena. However, the cultivation of soft skills has wide range application and is considered valuable in education, healthcare, and leadership. Looking back, I could have taken a moment at the store to express what I was feeling as well as to explain how we have to learn to adjust to the circumstances and how I could approach the situation. I could have shown some creativity and problem solving by sharing with her that I could try to find options online, ask a friend, or find a different store. If I had done things differently, I would have been showing her what it means to use soft skills.
If you consider the skills above, it’s not hard to see how these could help in a work environment, in relationships, and in overcoming hardships. These skills may seem as if they might be easy to learn, but they take a level of self-awareness that may not come as natural to many people since they haven’t been practiced. This is especially true for our children, who learn to regulate their emotions and behaviors over time from adults and caregivers in their lives.
There’s also the idea of emotional intelligence. It’s a concept stemming from the field of psychology and is used in relation to employment skills and education, among others. It’s been discussed for many years, and it was popularized in Emotional Intelligence, a book by Daniel Goleman. According to him, emotional intelligence involves self-awareness, self-management, regulation of emotions, empathy, listening skills, and social skills. It’s been shown to lead to better life satisfaction, better social relationships, and better academic achievement.
Remote learning is just one of the many challenges that families have had to negotiate during this pandemic. As a parent, I’m certain that many of us have experienced our children being nervous with online work or online teaching involving live meetings. Children might express feeling overwhelmed or might refuse to participate due to their anxiety.
As a parent, this is an opportunity for us to display emotional intelligence. For example, we could help a child put words to what he/she is feeling and try to understand the feelings that the activity brought up. We could also express that we heard the child and not just force them to participate regardless of their feelings about it. We could also offer to contact the teacher to help create a plan to help with future activities that might cause anxiety.
Both soft skills and emotional skills can be learned, and not just learned through an academic setting. These skills are best learned when our child’s brain is still developing.
As many parents and families are forced to remain home during this pandemic, how about using the countless hours to increase our own self-awareness by taking a moment to pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations? How about we then practice, teach, and model self-awareness and the other skills for our children?
Soft skills and emotional intelligence can be taught in many formats and could include the following:
- teaching vocabulary related to emotions and labeling our own emotions
- helping children identify what they are feeling through using a chart for emotions associated with different facial expressions
- modeling appropriate regulation of emotions in front of our children by teaching them to slow down their breathing and not respond to the situation until they are calmer
- teaching problem solving in the moment as we encounter challenges
- role playing scenarios related to activities with friends, peers at school, or other adults
- modeling adaptability and creativity while dealing with restrictions related to the pandemic
- teaching listening skills and empathy during discussions or arguments
The other day, my daughter worked on a school assignment, and she asked me to review it. As I reached over to get the laptop, my finger accidentally hit some key, and unfortunately, it erased her work. She was quite upset and quickly let me know it. She expressed that she was angry at me, and tears welled up in her eyes. I scrambled to figure it out, but I couldn’t recover her work. I felt awful. What surprised me was that, instead of having a tantrum and refusing to do it again, she agreed to redo it with the idea that she would earn a treat. What she displayed to me was self-awareness, communication, and her ability to regulate her emotions. By doing those things, she also reminded me how to respond. Acknowledging her ability to be aware and regulate herself also helped her build those skills further.
So, the next time your child asks for help with a problem or you’re called in to mediate an argument between your children, take a moment to think about how you can approach it with the idea that teaching your children self-regulation, empathy, and how to solve the problem is much more valuable than actually solving the problem. It’s much easier to just “fix it”, but your children will be in a much better place in the long run if you teach them skills to help build better social relationships and communities. The pandemic has forced our kids and us, as parents, to learn how to navigate a new reality that helps build resilience.