As you know, we’re talking a lot about emotional intelligence and mindfulness this summer. Emotional awareness is the first step to being mindful, in order to develop emotional intelligence, or EQ. To begin, you must observe your emotions without judgement. I’ve found an emotional intelligence activity for kids that will give them a visual representation of how the emotions flow in and out the mind.
But first, why is this important?
Well, by the time we’re adults, we’ve become masterful emotion dodgers. We’ve learned to judge emotions like sadness, grief, heartbreak, anger, fear, and stress as bad. As a result, we try to avoid those yucky feelings, finding distractions that help us avoid and stuff them away. In the worst case scenario, this leads to addictions. In the less worst case but not best case scenario, this leads to unhappiness and discontentment because as Carl Jung famously said, “what you resist persists.” They don’t go away — they just become bigger.
This starts in childhood. The emotion dodging.
So it’s vital to our emotional health, in childhood and adulthood, that we become masters of our emotions. Not masters of emotion dodging.
If you’ve been following along our mindfulness journey, you’ll remember that with the MindUp curriculum, we learned about the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex (PFC). We know that if feelings get stuck in the amygdala, our responses are not mindful but Flight, Fight, or Fear. Which is good say if a lion is about to eat you, but not in regular daily life. (No lions anywhere!)
When we let our emotions flow freely, they travel to the PFC where now we can use our logic to choose behaviors based on the emotional input.
But for kids, how can we show them this in action?
Emotional Intelligence Activity for Kids: Pooh Sticks
Try playing Pooh Sticks — a fun Winnie-the-Pooh game where you let your sticks float off one side of the bridge, and see whose stick makes it to the other side first. (Also written as Poohsticks.)
Toss in the sticks. Watch to see which comes out the other side first.
Now for the metaphor . . . Much like our emotions, the sticks (usually) drift on the water, freely coming and going. They float along. However, if the the stick gets stuck on a rock or another impediment, that can be like our feelings if we stuff, avoid, and ignore.
Getting stuck happens when you haven’t let your emotions get passed the amygdala. You’re stuck in Fight, Flight, or Freeze.
The best thing we can teach our children is to not have our emotions get stuck, but to notice their emotions without judgements, accept the emotions (“it is what is is“), feel them (HARD I know!) and then let them drift away.
But parents, we MUST be so careful with our language or our kids won’t believe and do this! Practice acceptance of all your own and your children’s emotions: “Being sad is okay. Being mad is okay. We do all feelings in our family.”
Mindfulness is living in the now with awareness and acceptance.
The blessing of this Pooh Stick activity is that it can be a touchstone for your emotional intelligence awareness discussions. I expect, like us, you’ll return to it often. “Remember how the sticks floated down the stream? Right now you’re sad. That’s something you can notice, accept, feel, and it will eventually float on it’s way.”
When we get better at this practice of emotional awareness, then we can start the next step of discovering where that emotion came from — what was the thought behind the emotion?
Kids often thing emotions come out of nowhere. But that’s not true. The truth is your emotions are connected to your thoughts. Thus, you might ask your kids, “What thought did you have before you felt that feeling?” or “What were you telling yourself just now?” They might not know yet — but we’ll talk about how to help that develop in the next post.
I didn’t know what my self-talk was until I was 38. (I had help from a fabulous therapist, and a mother who said out loud almost all my negative self-talk.) I have since been on an intense inner journey to clean out the lies and toxicity in my inner world. I am giving my children a different legacy. That is why I’m doing so much with EQ and mindfulness.
How about you?
Tell me what you think of this activity and where you are on your journey of EQ and mindfulness.
Recommended Books for Continued Study:
Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW (very well-done)
10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children–and Ourselves– the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happy Lives by Goldie Hawn
The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction: A Guide to Coping with the Grief, Stress and Anger that Trigger Addictive Behaviors by Rebecca E. Williams and Julie S. Kraft MA (*this is SO helpful even if you don’t have an addiction, it’s a wonderful opportunity to work through grief and stress!)
Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents) by Eline Snel
Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn (*EXCELLENT but is less about teaching your kids and more about being a mindful parent)
Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn (all his books are amazing)
Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything by Deborah Schoeberlein David and Suki Sheth (*I haven’t read this but it looks helpful.)
Download my "Can't Put 'Em Down" book lists for your kids ages 3 - 13.
Also, I'll send you a bonus "23 Reasons to Read" printable poster!