We, the human beings, are known as ‘homo sapiens’ or the thinking species. It is because of our thinking capacity that we consider ourselves the superior most among all other animal species. Hence a lot of value and importance is attached to our intelligence. An intelligent person commands a lot of respect in the society. An intelligent child raises the hopes of the society about his or her success in life. But we find that sometimes children with high IQ fail to achieve the expected success while those with modest intelligence may do surprisingly well in life. Psychologists suggest that the difference quite often lies in the abilities known as emotional intelligence which include self control, zeal and persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself for achieving one’s goal.
The problem is that even though a high IQ is no guarantee of prosperity, prestige, success or happiness in life, our schools and our culture focus mainly on academic abilities ignoring emotional abilities – which have a tremendous influence on our destiny. Our emotional intelligence determines how well we can use whatever other skills we have, including our intellect. People with well developed emotional skills are also more likely to be content and effective in their lives. They can easily master those habits of mind which adversely affect their productivity. People with less developed emotional life, mostly go on fighting their inner battles which greatly reduce their ability to think clearly and to do work which demands concentration.
Our childhood and adolescence are critical for setting down the essential emotional habits that will govern our lives, whether it is in terms of success or failure in various fields of our life or our personal or social relations.
The children who fail to master emotional skills like impulse control, delaying gratification, handling stress and anxiety and managing feelings etc. Become more prone to depression, aggressiveness, eating disorders or drug abuse etc. These symptoms create multipronged hurdles in one’s life. For example the sadness felt by depressed children may make them avoid initiating social contacts or respond properly to others’ initiatives for friendship. As a result they may feel rejected or neglected in their social surroundings.
Depression may also interfere with the memory and concentration of children. Depressed children may not feel any joy in what they are learning so that they become more likely to do badly in school. A bad performance in school may further heighten depression thus forming a vicious circle. If depression is not treated in a child, it can create serious problems later in life, leaving us with despairing, irritable and withdrawn adults.
On the other hand, aggressiveness in childhood can pave way for violence and criminality in adulthood. Since aggressive children have poor impulse control, they are often poor students. They often defy classroom rules and waste time that they would have otherwise used in learning. They often defy classroom rules and waste time that they would have otherwise used in learning. The age-mates of these children often reject them because of their aggressive behavior leaving them friendless. This pushes them to other social outcasts who then form a group of sorts and indulge in truancy, drinking, drug taking etc. At a later stage these children may drop out of school, become delinquents and engage in petty or serious crimes.
A renowned psychoanalyst, Sullivan, has pointed out that socially rejected children have very poor emotional growth because they do not get a chance to have intimate relations with friends hence losing on the chance of sharing deep feelings.
Children having anxiety, anger in depression are also extremely prone to take to drugs. Those most vulnerable to addiction seem to find in drugs a way of soothing their long standing distressing emotions. Similarly, children who are hyperactive, highly agitated, impulsive and bored, also become prone to drugs in search of risk and excitement.
Less developed emotional skill can thus play havoc with our life. Parents and teachers, mostly unaware of the basic cause of children’s failure, tend to blame them for their failures or poor social relations.
It is true that the development of many of these skills is determined by our genes, but our environment such as a fragmented, abusive or insensitive family or an impoverished, crime and drug-ridden neighborhood etc. Increase the chances of having emotional deficits, by delivering recurring emotional blows to children.
Many a psychologist suggests that our genetic endowments need stimuli from the environment to manifest themselves. So the expression of our genetically determined emotional skills will differ according to the type of stimuli we encounter in our environment.
This provides the solution to our problem. If we become aware of undesirable emotional patterns of children at the right time i.e. Before these patterns become fixed due to noncongenial environmental factors, we have to take steps to prevent them or alter them by providing congenial environment. We can do it by talking to children about their feelings and telling them how to understand these feelings, not being critical or judgmental, solving their emotional problems and coaching them on how to react to any emotional distress. It has been found that children having understanding parents who are responsive to their needs, and who provide opportunities and guidance to children in learning to handle distress, can develop desirable emotional skills.
The school also has a great role to play in this respect. A teacher has an opportunity to watch the emotional behavior of students in the classroom setting and identify their emotional patterns. So a teacher can provide appropriate guidance to the students facing emotional problems. Efforts in this direction have been made in some American schools. Dr. Karan Stone Mc Crown, an American psychologist, has developed a Self-Science curriculum for emotional training of students. Also named by some as emotional literacy course, the common goal of this course is to raise the level of social and emotional competence in children as part of their regular education in schools. A teacher can do it by discussing out the tensions and traumas of children’s lives in the classroom setting or under prevention program, the teacher can target specific problems like teen smoking, drug abuse, dropping out, violence etc.
Thus a joint effort by parents, teachers and desirably the community as a whole, will produce emotionally skilled children who will grow into decent, well adjusted and achieving adults. Only such people will be able to contribute to the development of a balanced society.