One Small Change to Help Kids Build Emotional Intelligence

Do you hear kids saying, "my turn" when they want something someone else has? I hear it said in a friendly way, often even without grabbing for the object. Pretty quickly the object is handed over to the kid who called, "my turn." Awesome. I love it when kids use their words and work things out themselves. 

But something about the phrase has been bugging me lately. So I've been prompting kids to go further, to say: "Charlotte, can I have a turn with that ball please?" 

At first I couldn't put my finger on what bugs me about the phrase "my turn." Then I started unwinding the reasons. It's a statement not a request. As such, it keeps the two kids at a distance emotionally. It doesn't offer an opportunity for connection - for kids to build emotional intelligence. 

When a kid says another kid's name while making eye contact, they are making themselves vulnerable. They are inviting the other kid into a tiny relational moment. A moment to hear the needs of another and to feel the inner conflict of wanting to keep the ball and also wanting to make another person happy. 

I've been prompting this second kid, the one with the ball to make eye contact right back and answer with something like, "you can have a turn when I'm done."

This is not about dis-empowering kids! I am all for the loud firm voice of a three year old girl stating her opinion or claiming what's hers. But I think what sort-of sounds like power in "my turn" is really less brave than a softer more confident, "Charlotte can I have a turn with the ball please." Because this polite phrase requires risk. It opens one up for rejection. Charlotte could say, "no, I plan to play with it all day." And in that moment there's yet another chance for bravery and connection! My prompt becomes, "tell her how that makes you feel, why the ball is important to you." Not as a way to persuade Charlotte to hand over the ball with an eye rolling fine. But for the requester to make another invitation to a tiny relational moment and to state her feelings and her wants. I may even say to Charlotte, "you don't have to give up the ball but listen please listen to what your friend is telling you about how she feels" That's the goal. To help kids turn toward each other and face uncomfortable social exchanges head on - together - listening to each other, identifying and saying aloud how they feel, what they want and where their boundaries are. This kind of small, simple step away from the phrase "my turn" to a full sentence is a perfect place to practice these skills, thereby helping children build emotional intelligence. And for me, emotional intelligence is what I most want to teach children. Dr. John Gottman states in his book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child that "researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life." Ability to to handle feelings. Success and happiness in all walks of life. Yes! Those are the things I want for the kids I'm helping to raise. Don't we all?