Simple modifications in our approach to raising children can make us significantly better parents and our children substantially happier and more successful. Two sea-change books of Dr. Spock proportions, spanning 25 years, are among the works that help tell the story: “Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ” by Daniel Goleman and “Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
First Goleman: IQ was a number that used to predict a child’s success as an adult. It was a bullseye along the continuum of educational attainment that was firmly fixed as a measurement of achievement. But that was the 20th century. And IQ has become less important since the millenium, as we increasingly become aware that emotional intelligence – or EQ – is a far better indicator of human success.
Bronson and Merryman address the inverse power of praise (“Sure, he’s special. But new research suggests if you tell him that, you’ll ruin him. It’s a neurobiological fact.”)
We are not, as it turns out, wired for greatness from birth. It seems that our achievement-oriented culture can mislead us. Christine Carter from the Science for Raising Happy Kids, explains, “We buy into the importance of having our children labeled as gifted early in life; we get carried away trying to pack too many activities into our kids’ lives… we spend billions of dollars on gimmicky videos hoping to give our kids an academic edge.”
Ironically, the markers of success are the softer skills, such as delaying gratification, impulse control, resilience, and empathy for others. There are no standardized tests to measure these emotional competencies. Yet studies confirm that children who learn to think for themselves, make good choices, and bounce back from adversity thrive in the work place as well as in their overall happiness quotient.
Self-awareness, it turns out, is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence, and emotional intelligence is shaped by experience. Survival skills are the mainstay in the backpack of life’s perils.
There’s the now-famous research study of the four-year-old and the marshmallow. The researcher explains: “You can have this marshmallow right now. But if you wait while I run an errand, you can have two marshmallows when I get back.” And he leaves the room. Some children take the treat right away, while others find creative ways to resist the temptation. It turns out that those who were able to delay gratification grew up better adjusted, more confident, and more competent teenagers. There’s more: when some of the students took the SATs years later, the ones who had held out longer scored an average of 210 points higher.
The “Nurture Shock” authors examined a set of positive emotions they dubbed “Supertraits:” resilience, gratitude, honesty, empathy, and fairness. Their theory: “If we could sufficiently arm children with Supertraits such as these, we hoped that problems would bounce off them just as easily as bullets bounced off Superman.”
Enter summer camp. Or call it a summer learning environment. Whatever the nomenclature, it’s the best place on earth for children to learn to think for themselves, where they can don their invisible cape That’s because the camp community is designed with intentionality – to help children learn the social skills they need, to have positive role models, to demonstrate democracy and moral order, to provide supports and opportunities for children to practice growing up.
We’re talking about how children learn – not about academic accomplishment. We need a galvanized effort with all out-of-school-time organizations, an anthem of sorts that seeks to layer emotional intelligence on cognitive intelligence, thereby producing a person’s general intelligence. And parents need to be part of the chorus.
So, readers, I say, go for it! Teach your children to cope, to problem-solve, to gain stress tolerance and impulse control. Let them make their own choices and bear the consequences of their decisions. Help them build their self-confidence, and don’t worry so much about their self-esteem. Resist the alarmist framing of so-called experts who inadvertently persuade you to tutor your 4-year-old who doesn’t know every letter of the alphabet yet. Learning doesn’t all happen in school.
Education and school are not synonymous. We can nurture the power of the heart, while we have less control over the destiny of the brain.