Photo copyright: Jacalyn S Burke 2016 (c)
For those of us who believe that our vocation as caregivers is akin to a calling of dharma – I offer these simple yet effective tools discovered through reading journals, books and online by great thinkers, movers and shakers. Enjoy.
“A Nanny’s Guide to EQ”
By Nanny X c) 2012
© Jacalyn S Burke 2016
What is emotional intelligence?
“…a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.” Salovey & Mayer, 1990
Years ago imparting emotional intelligence to our offspring was much easier. Most of us lived in communities where an extended family of grandparents, siblings, cousins and friends mapped out a vast emotional landscape for children. In this template children learned the rules. Everybody took a turn in this.
Most importantly, in this environment children experienced love expressed through touch, social skills developed through child’s play, boundaries created by adult example and a sense of worth by simply belonging to a group or clan.
This wasn’t a perfect system of course, but it did provide a foundation for community living and civic responsibility. In today’s fragmented hectic world, parents and extended kin are often unable to interact with their children consistently. This type of nurture might be outsourced to a relative stranger: a nanny or domestic or daycare worker. It is vital then, that such a provider of daily care be aware of the value of emotional intelligence.
Through a collective study (as a society) of infancy and early childhood development we have come to a fundamental understanding of milestones. Caregivers can make use of this invaluable research and to bring it to their care-giving. Here is a list of emotional milestones your child* should be reaching at certain ages:
*your child, your baby = your charge
3 months old
EMOTIONS: Opening up. Infants develop deliberate responses and a calm interest in people, smiling at those around them.
SOCIAL SKILLS: Attention and regulation. Does your baby turn to look at you when you make sounds or facial expressions?
HELPFUL GAMES: Look and listen. Talk to your baby as you slowly move your animated face right or left, trying to capture his/her attention.
5 – 6 months old
EMOTIONS: Diversifying: As they interact more with the outside world, babies display emotions like surprise, joy and frustration.
SOCIAL SKILLS: Engagement and relating: Does your baby seem happy or pleased when she sees her favorite people?
HELPFUL GAMES: Smiling game: Use words and funny facial expressions to get your baby to break into a big smile.
10 months old
EMOTIONS: Gazing: Babies begin to follow their caregivers’ gazes to understand what they are interested in.
SOCIAL SKILLS: Emotional interactions: Does she/he try to catch your eye or initiate engagement, such as reaching out to be picked up?
HELPFUL GAMES: Funny-sound game: Notice the sounds and expressions your baby makes and playfully mirror them back to her/him.
18 months old
EMOTIONS: Acting out: Toddlers become more self-aware, and may experience complex emotions such as pride or defiance.
SOCIAL SKILLS: Problem solving: Does your toddler seek you out to meet his/her needs, such as asking you to hold his/her hand?
HELPFUL GAMES: Working together: Create a problem that your child needs your help to solve; involve her/his favorite toy.
Infants and the role of Personal Interaction
Andrew Meltzoff, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, noted that “gaze-following” in children as young as 10 months old was not only a precursor for emotional and social intelligence but also a good predictor of potential language skills.
Other research shows that language develops more slowly in blind children and the children of *depressed mothers (* or substitute here ‘depressed or apathetic nannies’) where there is little eye-to-eye, facial interaction.
Parents who believe that stimulating bedroom materials, such as CD’s, digital games or books and DVD’s and/or activity classes will compensate for regular face to face engagement should be aware of a recent study that Patricia Kuhl (professor of speech and hearing at the University of Washington) conducted. Professor Kuhl’s original research over a decade earlier proved that very small babies have the unique ability to learn foreign languages. But time proved that playing tapes over the crib did not inspire millions of babies to pick up say Japanese or Russian. Why?
Dr Kuhl discovered that infants needed emotional context – that is – a connection to another person who spoke Japanese or Russian. Tapes of another language were simply filtered out by the infants as ‘background noise’.
Professor Kuhl concluded, “…. people – at least babies – need people to learn…”
Talking to Babies/infants (Tools)
Evidence of the need for “emotional context” can be found when a baby begins to attempt communication. To many a seasoned nanny or parent the news that ‘goo-gaa-gooing’ along with their infants actually caused them to advance linguistically, is not a big surprise. Dr. Michael Goldstein (psychologist at Cornell University conducted a study involving two sets of babies and parents.
One set were instructed to give praise and encouragement randomly as their infants babbled. The other group was asked to specifically reward infants’ language attempts with smiles and physical touch. The second group of infants was recorded as advancing faster than those who did not receive specific encouragement.
Mimicking Babies/infants (Tools)
Goldstein’s research demonstrates that loving confirmation of a sound, (mimicking a baby’s gibberish) and then correctly responding with the correct word, empowers your infant to try harder. It is one the greatest joys of parenthood or care-giving to hear a baby’s first words. If we are in sync with certain noises that our baby makes regularly we will be able to detect a baby’s efforts to form real words and to congratulate our baby.
Another important fact that has emerged recently is that infants can grasp “object permanence”. New research by psychologist Su-hua Wang at the University of California is demonstrating that babies as young as 10 weeks old are aware when a parent or nanny leaves the room they will not be gone forever.
Unfortunately some parents use the myth of “out of sight out of mind” to routinely replace or lay off nannies. They do not seem to realize that the infant involved will experience separation anxiety. Nannies too, might regularly move to better paying jobs at a second’s notice convincing themselves that their infant charge will not notice. However continuity impacts a child’s development and imparts a sense of security.
Ways to connect emotionally – floor time
Connecting emotionally involves ‘attunement’ that is literally being in sync with your child’s emotions. One way you can achieve attunement is through what Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan calls “floor time”. Floor time is a special time set aside for your child each day. (He advises at least 30 minutes per day) During this time you allow your child to take the lead. Your child is in control of whatever activity or game she or he wishes to play.
With younger children floor time does involve spending plenty of time on the floor on their level. It requires that parents/caregivers let go and go with the flow of their child’s imagination without feeling the need to micromanage or correct. Infants may need a little prompting especially if you are introducing a new toy but generally your children should feel free to explore.
Older children might just appreciate you just hanging out with them. Activities like playing sports, pitching or looping a hoop, are relaxing and allows parents to casually connect. Passive activities such as reading a book, watching a movie, playing a board game or solving a puzzle do not count as floor time – although these are wonderful opportunities to relate with children.
Floor time is direct one on one interaction. TV’s are switched off, gadgets are ignored and you are not logged on waiting for an email. This communicates that you have showed up for your child’s world. You enter their kingdom on their terms. Being in their realm, you are open to their feelings, their thoughts and their ideas. You need not worry about a lack of imagination as your children will gladly carry you along once they see you are willing. During floor time your child will feel special, ‘seen’ by you and nurtured.
Floor time isn’t a space without boundaries. Opportunities will arise demanding that limits are set. For example if your four year old son begins to whack a piece of antique furniture with his plastic sword you will want to explain to him that cushions are a more acceptable target. Play also involves a child losing her patience if something doesn’t work the first time. Floor space contains problem solving, alternatives to rage and frustration and basic rules of social interaction.
All of these activities teach children to develop self-expression and self- discipline.
When connection with children is challenging
It’s true that some parents and caregivers may feel inadequate. Perhaps they were never really played with as children and as a consequence they don’t know what to do. They might feel uncomfortable being emotionally intimate with children. With regular, focused practice however connection can be both a rewarding and a comfortable experience.
Floor time is simply an occasion to go deeper with your family. It will involve frustrations, exhilaration and mindful practice. It is easier to start at the beginning with a newborn but you can catch up with older children by showing again and again that you are interested in them.
With very small infants literally getting on their level is important. Being in tune lets your baby/child know that their emotional state has been understood, comprehended and acknowledged. You can do this by responding. Then you play back your infant’s feelings another way. It is an interaction of empathy. For example:
Baby drops her favorite toy, expresses frustration, parent picks the toy up and hands it back. Parent makes a ‘happy’ face and says ‘Daddy got your toy?
That’s better right?’ as baby gurgles contentedly.
With repeated attunement your infant discovers that those around him/her can understand her/his feelings. At around 8 months old infants recognize that they are separate from their parents and this recognition continues to evolve through intimate relationships with others, such as siblings, relatives and their nanny.
Failure to attune successfully with an infant impedes that infant’s emotional development. When a parent or nanny fails to show empathy with an infant’s range of emotions – sadness, pain, joy and respond appropriately – hugs, kisses, acts of elation, the infant may begin to avoid expressing those emotional states entirely. The consequence of this withdrawal isn’t just experienced between the infant and the parent/nanny. A withdrawal of emotional expressions can be experienced in all intimate relationships and throughout life.
In addition, a child exposed to a range of negative emotions: anger, depression and sadness can absorb and express these emotions throughout life. In other words, if the parent or the nanny is a depressive, negative type the infant will reciprocate their parent’s/nanny’s moods.
Being emotionally present in your children’s lives is challenging. It takes a certain level of sophistication. For example, how can a parent or a nanny teach their child the many faces of sadness – if you as an adult are not comfortable with sadness? It is in those occasions that we as adults must create a space for our children to express the full range of their emotions without avoidance or rebuttal.
The Power of Listening
Your children are talking to you all the time. It might be your newborn’s smile, your teenager’s scowl or your toddler’s silent glance. Your children come into this world talking. The question is who is listening? Working parents cannot be home to listen 24-7 but they can find someone who will listen effectively and consistently.
Additional tools for parents: Create an observation journal for your nanny. Offer a digital camera, an I-pad or cell phone to record and monitor new sounds/noises that your baby makes, and new developments, such as grabbing an object, or attempting to roll over. You will be able to review this data on a weekly basis identifying your infant’s needs, responding to those needs and directing your nanny accordingly. You will also be able to engineer your infant’s progress intellectually, emotionally and mechanically through a schedule and real-time observed floor time exercises using applications such as SKYPE.
Your Baby’s Brain. New Research. From Jealousy to Joy: How Science Is Unlocking the
Inner Lives Of Infants. Newsweek, August 15, 2005, pages 32-39. By Pat Wingert and
The Four-Thirds Solution: Dr Stanley I Greenspan
Social Intelligence: Daniel Goleman
NICHD Early Child Care Research Network 2005