When the world is on steroids, teach your kids to be softies
We live in two realities: we are more connected than ever and more emotionally disconnected
Raising happy and self-sufficient kids in a tech-crazy world, where playdates have become Play Station dates and eight-year olds are too anxious to fall asleep, means working from blank canvas says social and emotional learning expert, Linda Joy Bruce.
A psychologist and the mother of three, Bruce pioneered the Cool To Be Me curriculum for grades one to seven, which has become popular over the last decade for life skills training in schools.
“I’m not talking about being in a room full of petals, I’m talking about grit and resilience, the skills to deal with the real world.
“The World Economic Forum rated emotional learning as the six most important skill to have by 2020,” says Bruce, explaining how emotional intelligence informs IQ and the ability to learn.“We live in a world of two opposing realities: we are more connected than ever before and more emotionally disconnected,” she said. This has fuelled two epidemics among children: anxiety and bullying epidemics.
“It’s a world on steroids: too busy, too much, too quick. Too many assessments, too young, too many prizes, too many photographs!”
The instinctual part of children’s brains – overwhelmed by information and expectations and demands they face daily – are switching off to protect them, she says.
“They look at all the threats coming in and go into fight, flight and freeze mode, daydreaming and ignoring people.”
To unlock kids’ brains so that they are open to learning emotional, social and intellectual skills, we need to be personal and appeal to their interests, which is why unstructured play when they are young matters.
“They need to be interested, focused, calm and contented,” Bruce said, talking about how to achieve this, starting with self-awareness.
“The most powerful motivator is emotions.“We need to teach children the language for how they are feeling, how to label their emotions. We need to know our strengths and weaknesses, our emotional triggers.”
She said it was important for parents to acknowledge their children’s (and each other’s) emotions, not judge them or avoid them.
Bruce said: “Sometimes I think boys play rugby because it is a place where they are allowed to feel and it’s okay to feel.”
Self-regulation, using calming strategies, was an important skill said Bruce. Ways of calming down included breathing, tapping arms and legs, having heavy feet (pretend moon boots), timeout and laughter.
Getting our feelings under control allows us to move from reacting to people and situations, to responding to them, into self-determination.
The thinking part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is not fully developed until people are in their 20s says Bruce, stressing the need for parenting in adolescence, not only in childhood.“Goals are not always measurable, like honesty,” said Bruce, who also teaches optimistic thinking and expressing optimism and gratitude
Another element of her teaching is a growth mindset, explaining to children: “You can’t do that, YET ... keep going and you can. Learning is a hard, long process.”
“Our children have a huge fear of failure. We need to get a perspective on that. There is magic in making mistakes and learning from them,” she said.
“Technology is brilliant and it’s not going to go away, but we need to teach children and teenagers the emotional skills to living in his world.”