Teaching Your Kids Character: Social Intelligence
In some, this character trait is as innate as yawning. It doesn’t need to be taught because it just is. My younger daughter is like this. She has this ability to intuit just what you need, just when you need it. It’s remarkable and I am utterly in love with her for it.
I don’t know if she has telepathic hearing or can read my thoughts, but when I need to find my keys, there she is with them. Seriously. When her sister is crying she often hunts for Amy, the lovey, and simply hands her to her. I don’t know if she’ll still be able to flex this character muscle as she ages, but I hope so. She could be the next baby whisperer, or set new standards for the future ‘mu girl Friday’s.’
Social intelligence is more than intuition though. It has to do with reading people’s motivations, verbally and non-verbally. We all wear our feelings under our public veneers. Some hide them better than others. And the socially intelligent person typically sees these with their X-ray eyes.
Think Bill Clinton and his “I feel your pain.” Love him or hate him you must admit, the guy could read people and situations. Even if his empathy was forced, it was there.
The stand out lesson here, for me, is listening. Active and engaged hearing. It’s the key to empathy.
As an aside, I am a very socially intelligent person myself. I grew up the baby of a family with an alcoholic parent. My survival depended on knowing how to read a room. No one taught me, I just knew when it was going to be a good night and when it wasn’t. With some distance I can say it’s a blessing, really, to have a background like that. Although I’m happy to say you can get the same result through vastly different means. I used to think the trauma of it caused me to be emotionally and socially hyper aware. Seeing the trait in my younger daughter, though, lightens me a bit because I know her loving home lacks the same drama mine did and she’s so similar to me.
For your children, especially the young ones, you can ask if they have their listening ears on. It’s simple. It’s visual. It’s understandable. And, since kids mostly want to be helpful, this allows them to change their ‘non-listening’ behavior in a positive way.
I do this often and it works. Like a charm. I touch their ears. Look for foxes nesting deep inside. Anything to visually point out that my words are not getting through.
I also talk about interrupting and patient waiting. A child can grasp waiting patiently if you start small and exercise this ability. Naturally, babies understand the flow of conversation long before they understand the words. It’s because they pick up inflection and rhythm. Listen closely to baby babble and often you’ll notice that babies wait for you to respond so they can respond. Back and forth. Like a conversation. That’s patient waiting.
But then kids learn words and those words spill out like lava from their open mouths. And they forget to work on their listening and waiting.
Another way to teach this is to really pay attention to what your child is saying and how they are saying it. If you can show them that you understand them on many levels, then you are showing them what it feels like to be understood. Often I kneel and look my kids in the eye when they talk to me and I talk to them. It’s a physical manifestation of empathy.
Lastly, and I hesitate to mention it because once out of the bag, this cat’s not going back in. But. You can talk about the ‘why’ of it all. Why a friend might have said or reacted some way. Why your child might have been at the receiving end of a punch. I kind of hate the why question, personally, because the answer often leads down the road of labeling behavior and the never ending stream of the whys. But still. It’s an option if your up for it.
Next up on the character lessons: self control.
photo credit: aurostar739