The Importance of Emotional Intelligence
Updated: Apr 2
Let me begin this post by stating the fact that I love kids. Having said that, I was wondering if anyone else has noticed that kids can be little psychos.
I have been a lifeguard for the City of Glens Falls for the last three summers. The job essentially entails card games, eavesdropping on people’s conversations and the occasional save. I mean, it’s not my fault. I am literally paid to watch these people play in the water. Therefore is it only natural to hear the occasional small talk.
One day I was listening to a conversation between a mother and her son when a realization dawned on me. As I watched the son, once again, splash his mother in the face after repeatedly told not to, she responded with an ultimatum. Either splash me again and we go home, or stop splashing me and have fun. In response, the son whipped as much white water into his mother’s face as possible. His mom, infuriated, told him to sit on the sand and that they were going home. The son walked up to the beach and began to cry.
As he sobbed, I noticed that the intensity of his tears was directly connected to whether his mother was looking at him. As the mother began to collect the other children, the displeased son would dramatically increase his sadness with every glance the mother gave him. Finally, after a minute, the mother could not stand her son’s emotional state and told him he could get back in the water if he did not splash her again. With instant joy and achievement, the son bounded into the water and was back to having the time of his life. Not ten minutes later did I witness him splash his mother again as the cycle began once more.
It was at this time that a realization hit me harder than any belly flop I have ever been paid to witness. That disobedient son was simply playing his hand. He knew that his mother didn’t want to be splashed, and he knew she would threaten to end his fun early. Yet none of this mattered since he also knew that he had the ultimate ace card. He knew a couple of fake tears and a hardcore frowny face could turn her decision right over.
I thought about this for quite some time until I came to the conclusion that our empathy towards others is knowledge that must be learned no different than math or any other subject you learn in high school.
After three years of watching similar showdowns commence, I found that almost all the kids had that same ace that their parents lack. They possess the inability to understand how their actions affect others. They know that their actions will make others sad or happy. Yet they do not feel or truly understand the effect that emotion has on the person’s well being. The son understood that fake crying would make his mother sad. Which would then get her to go against her own statement and allow him to continue having fun. What he couldn’t comprehend was how she felt.
Another example is that these children do not realize the mental consequences of stating that one person is better than the other. I believe this is why little kids are the bluntest tiny humans out there. They simply do not understand what will psychologically happen to these people as they hear the unrelenting truth.
Personally, I have always considered empathy to be a trait that you either have or don’t have. Yet, since we learn it, I now consider it closer to a skill. Nobody teaches you how to feel happiness, but somewhere along the line, we must have been taught how to feel for others. If not taught directly, we may have taught ourselves through life experiences.
And like any skill, some people can learn it quicker and easier than others. People who are labeled as psychopaths, for instance, never learn this skill. Just as some people have the inability to read, these people have the inability to feel for others. On the other end, we have the altruists of society. People are so good at understanding others, they seem to identify with everyone around them as much as themself.
Empathy is the skill to understand how actions will mentally affect others. I think children are little psychos simply because they have not had enough time to learn this skill yet. Like any skill, some kids will learn it before others, or some may even go their whole life not learning it at all. Yet most will learn at their own rate and they will understand the feelings of others more and more with every year that passes.
If empathy is a skill that can be taught, then let us teach it. Yes, some will struggle more than others, but struggle or not we all learned fractions. And if we learn math, then we might as well learn how to care about one another as well. I mean come on, do third graders really need to know how to find the area of a fenced-in backyard or do they need a thorough explanation that other kids feel the same as they do when their toy is taken from them.
We should have a class designed to teach these much needed social skills to these very psycho children. I am not saying to get rid of math, but maybe we have a class called social life. One that teaches us to be empathetic for others. As well as teaches us how to handle breaks ups properly, or explains the ins and outs of awkward conversations. This class would simply teach us how to be mentally stable in a way that makes everyone else feel good as well.
Yes, you can learn these skills on your own, but if I was told to learn math on my own I don’t think I would have made it to triple integrals. I probably would have figured out addition and subtraction and then called it a day. This is how we currently handle these much needed social skills. We learn the basics and then suffer through the rest. I say we fix that, what do you think?
Image credit: leaderonomics.com