I don’t believe in curriculum. I don’t believe in telling kids what they should learn. I believe that inconsistency is the sign of open-mindedness and creativity. So it’s with pleasure that I tell you I’ve a penchant for curriculum for emotional intelligence.
Maybe it’s because I have a deficit myself. Or maybe it’s because my son also has one, and as soon as we got a diagnosis of Aspergers, at age two, we also received a set of curricula for emotional intelligence and a set of teachers to imbue it.
I use books, and therapists, and flashcards, and outings—anything I can find to teach social skills. Bonus suggestion for curriculum: there’s a (totally offensive) episode of South Park that does a good job of showing what what the world looks like to someone with Aspergers.
Anyway, everyone does better in the world with high emotional intelligence. I’m not even going to have a link for that sentence. (Although sometimes I do think that providing links shows emotional intelligence—like when I link to something that is like a little present for you. Or I can link to a friend who I hope gets traffic from my link. Linking is all about being nice.)
I have been thinking about how to measure social intelligence. How can I tell how I’m doing teaching it to my kids? Here are some ways I’ve thought of:
Give them interview questions. Most companies have some sort of interview tactic to figure out the emotional intelligence of a candidate. The behavioral interview tells not very much about someone’s experience, but it reveals a lot about a person’s outlook. A question as simple as “tell me about a time. . .” gives someone the option of starting with an intellectual problem, and personality problem, or a logistical problem. That tells you if someone is oriented to ideas (respectively), people, or getting things done.
Fast Company published eight questions that work for this purpose. The list of questions includes what the answers show about a person, which enabled me to give that kind of interview to my sons. And while there is no score, the answers told me how much my sons value relationships and how much responsibility they take for their own situation—two harbingers of high emotional intelligence.
Focus on personality type risk factors. Once you know your child’s personality type you also know their weaknesses. Each weakness, no matter which type, is weakness of emotional intelligence, sort of an emotional intelligence blind spot.
For example, INTJs value intellectual competence and have no patience when it’s lacking. So for my INTJ son we talk a lot about how people are valuable for things that have nothing to do with intellect. (He’s still not convinced, unless the person happens to be doing something for him.)
My other son is an ESFP, and his weakness is how he will sacrifice his personal values for fun. So when friends come over and do something unacceptable on a farm, like chase chickens, I am relentless about how we need to speak up when someone is doing something we know is wrong. (So far the result is that my son didn’t invite that friend back because he doesn’t want to deal with conflict, a choice that I consider to be progress, because this year it’s the chicken chaser and in college it’ll be the drug dealer.)
Set specific goals. People can generalize behavior. A famous study by economist Richard Easterlin (that I can’t find) showed that kids who focused on walking with a book on their head for part of each day were actually more disciplined in other parts of their life. They woke up with an alarm more often, ate more healthy food, and did their homework more often. Herminiai Ibarra says that the same is true with emotional intelligence: if you focus on it you will improve.
So I pick one thing at a time for my sons to focus on. Lately it’s been flowers. I told them that women like receiving flowers, so men should send flowers. Even if men don’t understand themselves why this would be nice, it’s very kind to be able to give a gift that shows you understand the other person.
Then the kids brought me flowers from the grocery store. That was fine. Once. But, the kids need to learn to navigate the world of florists. I taught them how to find a local florist anywhere, and how to get a basic understanding of flowers so they’re not shooting in the dark.
My INTJ son asked why flowers have to be so bright and perky. “What if you don’t like that style?” he asked. I took that moment to show him my pictures I’ve been saving forever of Claire Basler’s gorgeous, moody alternative to sunshine and happiness.
Of course he wished he’d never asked.
I told the kids to surprise me. “Send me flowers when I’m not expecting it!” I told them. Those are the best kind. But then I thought: what if their wives want them for Valentine’s Day or Women’s Day or Flag Day or some day that I don’t care about? What if their wives hate me for poor training?
But it’s emotional intelligence to know how to ask for what you want. And to marry someone who has that skill as well… Maybe that’ll be next on the curriculum.