As vehement rhetoric is blasted from all points on the political spectrum this election season, it is easy for children to copy the not-so-emotionally-intelligent language and behaviors modeled by adults—politicians and citizens alike.
Have you found yourself or someone you know yelling obscenities during the evening news, or making a moral judgement of another driver on the interstate because of a campaign bumper sticker?
When politics and emotions become intertwined, emotions have the power to override clear thinking and sound judgement.
Nonetheless, there are opportunities to foster emotional intelligence in kids and teens as we enter the final phase of the 2016 presidential election season.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize feelings, control responses and display empathy toward others. Positive interpersonal relationships, self-confidence and strong communication skills are the end result.
Being Smart with Your Emotions
The absence of emotional intelligence can manifest as impulsivity, unfair attacks and uncooperative relationships.
Continued exposure to emotionally unintelligent behavior normalizes it. This makes it likely for kids to emulate. Would you condone your child using profanity or attacking someone for thinking differently?
It’s a good practice for kids to exercise self-control when they hear something they don’t like—whether we are talking about politics or things like household rules.
There’s a strong case for being smart with your emotions.
This is no easy act, but kids are paying attention when adults discuss politics. Emotional intelligence has many benefits to your child that will serve them well socially, academically and everywhere else in between.
Despite palpable divisiveness across party lines, the political climate can offer an ideal setting for adults to model tenets of emotional intelligence like empathy, self-awareness and self-regulation. Being attuned to our own emotions, and the emotions of others help build trusting relationships.
Politics is all about connecting with people. Candidates need to connect with constituents. Voters need to connect with politicians. And citizens need to feel connected with one another.
Emotions and Politics Go Hand in Hand
Dr. Bart Rossi, a political psychologist and commentator, offers an explanation of the link between the two. “Politics conjure up a lot of emotions because it strikes at the heart of someone’s frame reference and belief system.”
Dr. Rossi explained that when people feel that their ideas are under attack or their way of thinking is challenged, an emotional response is normal because we want to defend who we are and what we believe in.
You can be strong in your convictions, while still exercising some restraint to respond immediately when you hear a contradictory idea. Even when you adamantly disagree with an opinion or totally reject a particular candidate’s ideology, there is value in allowing yourself to respectfully listen, and try to understand the other side.
This isn’t about who you are going to vote for, or whether or not you decide to show up to the polls in November. Regardless of which presidential candidate you favor or oppose, you can engage with others, politically, in an emotionally intelligent way.
Conversations about the election are bound to arise in the classroom or in a social situation for your child, if they haven’t already, over the next few months. And as adults, it’s our duty to help them confront politics in an emotionally intelligent way.
More than a fifth of the nation’s population is under the age of 18 so the seeds planted by parents, educators, and the media will certainly influence the culture of politics over the next few decades. Democratic engagement and civic learning are important for our citizenry.
Meaningful Conversations about Politics
We all want future generations to participate in politics in a meaningful way. Being emotionally intelligent will allow youth to engage in a way that is convincing, while upholding their integrity and keeping cool when disagreement arises.
How you discuss politics in your household has huge and lasting implications for kids with impressionable and thoughtful minds. And aside from what they hear at home, they will catch wind of political scandals, scroll through a galling social media post or be privy to a contentious debate, but such elements of political campaigning reveal very little depth. These are merely soundbites.
Teaching your child to explore the soundbites and do research beyond the clickbait headline will serve them well in navigating politics from a place of emotional intelligence.
While not all politicians or leaders themselves have exemplary emotional intelligence like Abraham Lincoln was thought to possess, the political arena provides many learned lessons in social acumen. After all, politicians every interaction is under immense scrutiny.
Dr. Rossi explains that personality, including emotional intelligence, plays a large role in the appeal of a candidate. He calls this term a “winning personality.” In addition to examining one’s owns emotional intelligence, studying the behaviors and attributes of others is helpful to learn from.
“I think that parents would do very well– no matter what side of the aisle they are on–if they could talk about the traits and characteristics of a winning personality,” Rossi said. “They could bring up all kinds of people.”
And just because Clinton and Trump are going head to head in the race for presidency, doesn’t mean voters of opposing views have to go to war. The upcoming presidential debates, known to fuel vitriolic outbursts, can create a social contagion effect in viewers. However, that doesn’t mean you, as a voter, should follow suit.
Daniel Goleman, renowned psychologist and author of many books on emotional intelligence, offers five competencies to achieve emotional intelligence in his book, “Working with Emotional Intelligence.” Using Goleman’s framework, here are some ways to harness emotional intelligence this political season in your household.
1. Self-Awareness: Discuss politics and help your child to identify their emotions and understand how those emotions have influence over their view of the world and decision-making. Practice putting a name to emotions when things become politically charged. If you find yourself feeling angry after watching a news segment or reading an article, identify exactly what you are feeling and examine it. Self-awareness builds confidence. Have your child join you in this exercise.
2. Self-Regulation: We all need this skill in life. This is the practice of impulse control. Perhaps you start by enduring political commentary that challenges your thinking without yelling at the television. Maybe tune into a network that you don’t normally watch or listen to a political pundit who espouses views that don’t align with your own. This means fighting the urge to engage in name calling.This will help you and your child to practice that filter when emotions become heightened. It’s okay to disagree, and to feel angry, but postpone the need to respond impulsively. Self-regulation also includes being okay with hearing new information. Just listen.
3. Motivation: People with high emotional intelligence are able to pursue goals even in the face of challenges. Recognizing that a particular candidate’s policies could pose personal obstacles, ask your child about their ideas to pursue their goals despite such hurdles. What are the opportunities they can explore to achieve their objectives? For those whose kids are following the election closely, perhaps this propels them to get more involved in their own community or school. You can also ask your child what they would like to change or see differently and then have them formulate actionable steps to accomplish their vision.
4. Empathy: Having empathy toward others allows you to understand where another person is coming from and how they might be feeling. This willingness to put yourself in someone else’s shoes can help cultivate relationships with individuals who may have a different way of thinking. When it comes to matters of opinion, we tend to see things as either right or wrong. To build empathy, try to look at the situation through another lens to see another perspective. Seek understanding rather than trying to prove that your way is the most favorable way. To practice empathy this political season, have your child discuss what factors may contribute to people favoring one candidate over the other. Explore the circumstances and forces that may shape a person’s way of thinking. Model this willingness to see another perspective. By doing this, you show your respect for an opinion even when you disagree.
5. Social Skills: Model to your child that strong relationships can be built even when people don’t see eye to eye. There is great skill in being able to find common ground. One useful tool is for you and your child to complete a political typology assessment to see where you both fall on the political spectrum. This exercise can help to begin a dialogue toward a shared outcome. The Pew Research Center offers a political typology quiz that can be completed online. Another tip is to have your child practice their conflict management skills when they see the presidential candidates engaging in a disagreement. During the debate, you can ask your kid to find opportunities where the two parties could find common ground. You can also foster strong social skills by helping your child listen with an open mind, and encourage them to be intentional and respectful when providing a counter argument.