Supporting Emotional Intelligence in Two-Year Olds

I have just completed a 14 week experience teaching two-year-olds in a Montessori-style classroom and interacting with their young parents.  “The terrible twos, how could you?” said my friends.  Today, I am very grateful for this concentrated glimpse into the world of these fourteen very individualistic two-year olds (and I didn’t find any of them “terrible”).

This age bracket is the beginning one for the development of emotional intelligence.  Many children are struggling with their emotions in a public setting (day care) for the first time and learning how to get through it all.   Already, I could see the previous social conditioning of their parents playing out in their personalities and orientations to other children.   I observed these children navigating for the first time with how to play in meaningful ways with others– copycatting was high on the list of observable play behaviors. If one child initiated a behavior, others would follow suit—usually these were with undesirable behaviors.  Some were transitioning from diapers to the toilet—those that had made it were in a different “older kid club”.  There was pride in this membership.  They were all learning how to be independent with opening lunch boxes, throwing away their left overs, cleaning their work areas, taking work off the shelves and returning it to the same location. Some days, all the children worked so diligently on their lessons with enthusiasm and joy.  Other days, they were more apt to throw themselves down on the rug, roll around and “space out”.   Sometimes they just got in trouble.  The head teacher called this “making a bad choice”.  This seemed to work.  I could see them categorizing these infractions in their consequent actions.  They certainly knew when another child made a “bad choice” and were happy to share that information. When they didn’t make good choices, they had to be carefully explained to as to why their choice wasn’t the best one.  Negotiations were often difficult.  There was occasional biting when “no” didn’t seem to cut through, there was hitting by those who didn’t go as far as biting, and there was a lot of touching, and not much hugging.  Crying was the easiest way to express their frustrations and disappointments.  I found all of these behaviors mark the beginning emotional life for the two-year old who is attending day care.

If your child is in day care and this age, you may be interested in exploring with your teacher the ways your child is developing emotional intelligence.

Parents are advised by experts to:

Become aware of the child’s emotion.
Recognize the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching.
Listen empathetically and validate the child’s feelings.
Help the child verbally label emotions.
Set limits while helping the child problem-solve.

I was able to sharpen my teaching, listening and caring skills through this “in the trenches experience” and I have a new found appreciation for the amazing minds of two-year olds– their capacity for order and cleanliness, their curiosity about the world, their attention to detail, and most especially the emerging independent spirit that comes from wearing underwear and being able to do things for oneself.  Pay attention.  There is a genius stirring in your two-year-olds mind– even if you can’t quite see it yet.

Dr. Celeste A. Miller

Photographed by Tom Miller

Kwan Yin – Ceramic – Taipei

 

Adam’s Story

Adam’s Story (written by a former student of mine)

Adam was a happy baby and toddler who developed seemingly normal.  Upon entering kindergarten, his parents were asked at the conclusion of the first day of school for their consent to have Adam tested for social and behavioral problems.  Apparently, his first day had not gone well and his teacher seemed stressed and upset.  His parents were immediately confused, concerned, and afraid their child would be “labeled”, and needed to respond to a crisis without a lot of time to process what was happening.  Adam’s parents consented to testing, and within a few months, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Being from a rural area, the school had not provided services in the past for a child with this particular diagnosis.  Every decision to come would be an experiment, which set this family on a path that served as a test of love’s foundation within their home and among school personnel.

Adam’s parents had many discussions about their love for their son, and how they wanted to advocate for his best interests, while trying to support the school psychologist, social worker, and other specialists.  The process was painful at times, as his parents often had to listen to staff detail hurtful information about Adam’s negative behaviors at school.  Adding to the stress and confusion was the fact that Adam did not exhibit the behaviors at home when he was in an environment that was predictable and safe.   Throughout countless meetings and communications between the parents and school, numerous changes were implemented and altered between kindergarten and third grade.

The parents chose to acknowledge the work school staff was doing on Adam’s behalf even when they did not agree with all the decisions.  They made choices to build upon anything positive, while letting go of things out of their control.  They purposefully wrote letters of gratitude and appreciation to teachers, personal aides, and other staff to let them know they were valuable people to this family.  The more the parents positively engaged school workers, the more responsive they became to Adam and his needs.  The family’s love for one another, their commitment to acknowledge the strengths of others, and their willingness to remain hopeful in the midst of dismal circumstances transformed the ways school staff approached their work with Adam.

In the three years since his diagnosis, Adam, his family, and those who work with him have gone through some extraordinary changes, which include tons of tears, laughter, heartache, and most importantly, the transforming power of love.  Adam is a child who goes to school with joy and anticipation knowing that those around him think he is special.  When love is put into practice, it has the potential to literally change how others think, feel, and behave.

Adam is my child and he has taught me how to get up and keep moving when others do not understand.  He has challenged our family to educate ourselves, to forgive others when they lack knowledge, and to hug someone else just because.  Without the bond of love that binds each one of us together, we would have missed out on the opportunity to open the door to future parents and their children who will on day follow in Adam’s footsteps at school.  The relationships formed in the process are grounded in love and we consider each teacher, social worker, and educator an important and intricate part of our lives.  Simply stated, we love them.  The family truly is love’s crucible for transformation.  May we all be willing to accept the call to love (Anonymous student, 2010).

Surely, the example of this family is a statement of the living truth that the family is love’s transformation.  And this is the way I believe God intends it to be.  The family is called upon to learn about selflessness, sacrifice and service to one another in myriad ways while living out their lives together.  This requirement for love’s expression will challenge and pummel us.  There are many roles love plays in multi-generational family configurations.  All of these present opportunities to be of service to others and to grow in love.

Excerpt from The Reincarnated Child’s Family

Dr. Celeste A. Miller

Art by Tom Miller

Art by Tom Miller

Building Character

Building Character

We hold in our hearts the idea that our children will end up as upright, moral citizens contributing to society in self- fulfilling ways and passing down the family values to yet another generation.   Many factors combine to create morality in people.  The environment plays its part, the DNA (which is really an allotment of karma) of the child is there from birth and can override some messages from the environment, strong examples in family members can reinforce moral temperament as can something as simple as having a happy family meal time to share family values each day. Some would suggest that going to worship together is important and others would choose other forms of family sharing such as community service as essential for training children in morality.  We want to build character in our children.

You cannot lead where you have not gone.  So model for your children your own moral thinking.  Reflect on this definition:

   Character is not about a person’s temperament or personality.  It is the moral restraint or encouragement of his temperament.  It is the outward reflection of the inner person.  Character reflects our morality and our morality defines our character.  Virtues are independent of temperament. How children learn morality will differ, but what they learn about morality should be based on the same principles.  Do not lower the standard to fit the child.  Train the child to rise up to the standard. Don’t give before the child asks and don’t prolong crying to the point of helplessness.  Train the child that he must put a demand on life, but also that life will respond to that demand with help.[1]

Seligman and Peterson studied the world’s philosophies to determine seven global characteristics of character.  These are optimism, social intelligence, self-control, zest, grit, gratitude and curiosity.[2] I read a very interesting article dealing with teaching middle school and high school students how to have character.  The article compared two schools – one a private upper class academy with affluent children and the other a public school with low income children on measures of character as defined.  What they found was that the children in the prep school did not have higher character.   The researchers also examined graduates of Harvard to see if they had these characteristics and found that amongst all these students, those who were not successful, no matter what their parent’s income, were lacking in these character traits.  They found that those with high scores in grit had higher G.P.A’s regardless of their I.Q. as well.  Thus, this study found that these 7 traits, including self-control are a greater predictor of success than I.Q.[2]

The researchers had this advice for parents.

“…in fact, we have an acute, almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both large and small.  And yet we all know –on some level, at least –that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship; some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can.  As a parent, you struggle with these thorny questions every day, and if you make the right call even half the time, you’re lucky.”…[3]

“The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure….and in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.” [4]

We lead with love.   Hopefully it will be unconditional love. Sometimes, we overdo the love aspect and fall short on letting children experience challenging situations where they can learn to have “grit”.  We rescue them by showering them with love in a moment when they need to struggle and overcome for themselves.  These situations build strength of character and that is our end goal.  So, keep your eye on the goal of character building and allow the child to self-determine their behavior in times of crisis.   I think you will find, as you analyze your life, that having a heart full of gratitude for what you have received, your opportunities, your downfalls, people who have been kind to you, even those who have taught you something unpleasant about yourself that you didn’t want to know, will get you farther, faster.  Grit sounds like a” gritty” word, but it seems research is saying that it is the staying power we need to keep on keeping on.
[1] Tough, P., (2011).  The character test.  New York Times, October 30

[2] Seligman, M. (2002). Authentic happiness, using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment.  NY, New York:  Simon & Schuster Inc
[3] Ibid. p. 205
[4] Tough, P. (2011). The character test. New York Times, October 30

Dr. Celeste Miller

Wings of Light

Wings of Light

Five Ways to Keep Communication Channels Open with Teens

Five Ways to Keep Communication Channels Open with Teens

Let me share with you some things I tried to do, and things I wish I had done, as I parented my teenagers.

  1. A well-fed teenager is more apt to listen to you than a hungry one. So, when you have a major topic to discuss, plan to have a pizza delivery at the exact time your teen arrives home and sit down to share the pizza and bring up your topic of conversation, even if it is an inconvenient time for you.
  2. Pick your battles very carefully and don’t nag. Institute consequences and stick to them.
  3. Learn to use intentional dialogue to solve problems. This approach is calm, considerate and understanding of each person’s position. This technique is explained in the Notes section of each of my books.
  4. Keep up family traditions you started when children were younger. You may think they have outgrown some of them, but even “dorky” things bind you together. We used to have an annual Scarlet Pimpernel night when we dressed up in period costumes and watched the movie together. Fun!
  5. Try not to say “When I was young we did such and such as a judgment upon what kids are doing now. They can’t go back; society has moved on. Instead, try to keep up with teenage trends that are fairly harmless. Listen to the words of their favorite music to understand the messages they are internalizing. And do push back against social messages that tear down your family value system by explaining why these messages are not healthy, etc. Stay tuned in. This too shall pass.

Dr. Celeste Miller

Tree and leaf

Tree and leaf