When I was young, my mom had a pre-school and kindergarten. She was fascinated with child development and brain functioning. At one point, I remember she introduced to her students a concept that was new to her which would later be called emotional intelligence. Now, she might have realized that kids of 3, 4, and 5 years old might not be able to interact with the “EI” expected of highly functioning adults, but she had learned about a method that would help kids communicate and thought she should give it the good old college try.
She gathered the little ones in a circle on the floor of the main school room and explained to them that there were far too many people walking around who could identify their emotions as only “mad, sad, glad.” There were more accurate ways to talk about feelings. The kids stared at her like she was speaking German. She opened up a book and started asking them if they could use better words. Some of the words she read from the book were “frustrated,” “excited,” “embarrassed,” and “scared.” The discussion went slowly, because many of the kids didn’t know exactly what these new complicated words meant. However, once they were informed, many voiced the notion that they felt all of those things at once. Yes, they were quite the dynamic group!
Recognizing that she wasn’t really getting her point across, she pulled out of her handbag some tiny fuzzy balls of yarn onto which she had pasted two fake eyes. She told the kids that those represented good feelings. They were called “warm fuzzies.” They were really soft and fun to hold. Then, she pulled out some tiny hard Styrofoam balls that she had decorated with tiny toothpicks – and a pair of eyes. Those represented negative feelings and were called “cold pricklies”. They could hurt you!
After a brief moment when you could have heard a pin drop, Mom gave each student a cold prickly and a warm fuzzy. Each of them could choose which one they wanted to give a friend. A raucous exchange of yarn balls ensued with each child agreeing later that they didn’t want to give other people negative feelings. The exercise was a huge success, because, as the school year progressed, my mother merely had to ask a child if he or she thought his or her behavior was a cold prickly or a warm fuzzy for behavior to improve.
It was a start. The kids learned words with more nuance to express themselves and began the exchange that we all engage in for a lifetime of warm fuzzies and cold pricklies. Even before that, though, they had to take a personal inventory of how they felt and how they wanted to interact with others. Then, they had to anticipate the feeling their behavior might create in another person. For them, it was simple to behave consistently with what they felt and anticipate the feelings of others. If only we could hand out yarn balls today…
By M. Lisa Shasteen, Contributor to CEO Effectiveness