Part 5 – The Importance of Emotional Intelligence
This is part five of the five-part series – Why I chose Imara’s Holistic Education for my Child which illustrates one parent’s journey through understanding and embracing Imara’s holistic education (commonly referred as alternative education) system, and its impact on her child as well as the broader society. This part talks about the importance of Emotional Intelligence in a child’s life, and how it is nurtured at Imara.
Go back to: Part Four: Helping our Children Become Joyful Learners | Introduction
When I was in school, getting good marks and excelling in academics meant everything for everyone. I did quite well throughout my school, graduation and post-graduation years, and when my son started his schooling, he was good in academics as well. I would frequently hear remarks like, “he grasps concepts very well”, or that “he is quite quick in his work and doesn’t make mistakes”. Additionally, he was well behaved and malleable. What more can we expect from a kindergartener?
But despite everything happening as per the ‘standards’ in my childhood, I always felt that something was amiss, and it always left a deep nagging feeling inside me. In my profession, I interact with people all throughout the day. One of my goals is to assist people in achieving their true potential and grooming their leadership qualities. Working with different people started giving me an insight into what makes them successful – a happy version of successful that is.
I saw that there are many aspects that go beyond a person’s intellectual ability. With people working as leaders, it was their ability to understand others, bring everyone together, and inspire them that made them stand out. The best people were those who were goal-oriented yet empathetic, disciplined yet flexible, and confident yet humble. These were few of the qualities that stood out for people who are successful and revered at the same time.
Through these observations, I was very intrigued by the role of Emotional Intelligence, frequently called as Emotional Quotient (EQ). As I explored this concept from different angles, it became evident that although our society does not give much attention to it – Emotional Quotient is indeed a differentiator. Identifying, processing and managing one’s emotion is a vital skill that has significant impact on the quality of our life. Unfortunately, our conventional schooling system does not give it the due importance it deserves. Neither is it given any weightage in a society’s definition of success. For us, success is directly proportional to materialistic achievements. While I do not disregard the importance of such success completely, I definitely want this to be complemented to inner satisfaction and peace, in order to live a fulfilled life.
Us parents generally believe that a school exists primarily to impart academic ability with co-curriculars, and that they should not be expected to look at something like EQ, physical fitness, and inner strength. This might be a fair point and may work for many. However, for me, life and learning are not two separate aspects, nor is intellectual growth in isolation of emotional growth and physical well-being. As a human being, we are a total of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being – and nourishing one while overlooking their interconnectivity is an incomplete process for me. I believe that when they are worked upon in tandem since childhood, the child’s natural proclivity will be to maintain that balance all along. Also, it will come naturally to them – and while they will move through life and tackle many intellectual challenges, they will have a good emotional balance and physical strength to compliment those efforts.
Let us also not forget the importance of good emotional strength in itself. As the world becomes more competitive, complex and fast-paced, EQ will be increasingly important for our children to navigate situations with ease and confidence. This will be a good virtue to live a successful, balanced and fulfilling life. However, to find an institution that carefully integrated all these aspects was very difficult. After evaluating many schools, I found that while most of them promote overall growth as an objective – the reality is unfortunately different. I do not blame the schools – they deliver what the society asks out of them. Therefore, after much deliberation, when I saw a place that spoke more about nurturing the child than covering syllabus – I took a leap of faith!
The first few months were a bit of a struggle for me, as I could not understand how Imara worked towards achieving its objectives. However, I quickly began noticing the change in my child. You might wonder what change a parent can expect when the child was already doing well in their previous school. First, I saw that he was showing a lot of joy in learning. Without fear of judgement and reprimand, my child was experimenting and enjoying the process. His natural curiosity was finding its due course and was being nurtured.
Another noticeable change was in the way he responded to difficult situations. When demands were placed but not fulfilled, there were no tantrums but rather an effort to understand why that situation arose. All this happened at the tender age of six! This was not limited to my child but was observant in his peers as well. An otherwise constant competition of who is doing better turned into positive cooperation, where children would step forward and assist each other if they saw that the other was struggling. There were many other changes and I realized these are solid foundations of qualities that make adults joyful and successful.
Naturally, I was very intrigued by these changes and wanted to personally learn about the processes followed at school – to improve myself as parent. The facilitators were ever so willing to help me understand the ways of Imara! However, my best experience was when I was volunteering at school, and observing the interactions between learners and facilitators. I also felt the significant difference created by the environment – a place where children were free to express themselves as they are, and not get reprimanded but rather assisted to look within and find solutions.
Let me share a few examples. During ‘circle time’, other than helping in academic and intellectual pursuits, children are encouraged to have discussions around emotions. They can appreciate each other or discuss their problems. The problems usually range from lack of cooperation from others to teasing, to exclusion, and having opposing views. The overall environment in school allows a child to express themselves openly. This, in itself, is a very important step – the ability to identify and express one’s feelings. Next, there are attempts made for resolutions. All participants can offer solutions and the person who has shared the issue also becomes part of it. Facilitators gently encourage and guide by asking open-ended questions leading to self-introspection and finding the will to move from problems to solutions. Again, building a solution-oriented approach from such a young age is very beneficial.
Of course, there are times when a child is not able to work through feelings of sadness, anxiety or anger. They are given ample time to excuse themselves from the group and process those feelings individually. While understanding their inner-selves, children accept their emotions and learn to work through them. In some situations, facilitators assist and guide children towards solutions. I overheard a facilitator explaining three children who were fighting, “you can choose to stay in a grumpy mood throughout the day or make an attempt to change and enjoy with others – the choice is yours”. With few such attempts over a period of time, children start understanding that their response to a situation is entirely in their hands. They slowly learn to channel their energies creatively.
Quite frequently, children are seen stomping around facilitators and demanding answers to the queries from their work. When they are sent back to work on their own, they do express their frustrations. In extreme situations, facilitators are labelled as being the ‘worst people and not helpful at all’. But the facilitators are aware of the extent to which they can direct a child to their inner potential. They do not mind such accusations but rather guide children to find better ways of expressing their disappointment and frustration. After the child struggles and finally stumbles upon answers to the questions they had directed towards the facilitators, the joy of their achievement is priceless, not to mention this increases their confidence manifold.
Again, let’s look at the process from a long-term perspective. When you are constantly guided to move beyond the obvious, to work through obstacles (including emotional ones), and persist through dead ends, it builds key attributes like perseverance and resilience. The process is free of judgement and ridicule of any kind. Thus, it offers more space for children to share their feelings and work through them. Self-awareness lays the path for self-confidence.
Imara’s sports arena is another area where one can see a flurry of emotions. Facilitators duly recognize this and allow children to first express and then work through troublesome aspects. Most children find it easy to confide in their facilitators and embrace them as guides in their journey. After a certain age, you can observe learners guiding each other through difficult experiences. While there is sufficient space to express difficult emotions, the school is nevertheless filled with squeals of joy and laughter.
Whenever I go to Imara, a sense of calm embodies me immediately. My favourite thing to do is to stand in some oblivious corner and observe the uninhibited giggles, joy and laughter of the students. It just fills me up with an unexplained positivity. I see little ones jumping around during PE, singing and swaying during circle time. There is something peculiar when you see them listening to a story intently – going into a dreamland and then building their own versions of the same. They hug their facilitators, sit in their lap when comfort is required, and share their joys as well as discomforts.
And yes – there are frequent fights amongst children too. You can see them squabbling over a puzzle or place. The facilitators do not force children to share, as they feel the virtue of sharing does not arise naturally when it is forced. Children are left to work out their relationships with minimal interference, and yet somehow turn up ending their disagreements. I have experienced it first-hand with my child, and it baffles me completely – a formula I still wish to crack.
The older ones are also seen completely immersed in their surroundings and the work at hand. Their joy is prominent from the twinkle in their eyes, as they explore different topics. The exhilaration of working through new projects is still visible in my ten year old. He frequently tells me, “I am excited about tomorrow”, and he doesn’t like to miss school even for a single day. These feelings are shared by his classmates as well, and Imara’s efforts in children’s overall development – in the truest sense – are fairly visible. I agree with Aristotle that, “educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”.
If we want to see our children grow up to be individuals who are happy and balanced while also being successful, then we must nurture their body, mind and heart simultaneously – and I am happy that I chose Imara to achieve this for my child.