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A Q&A with Dr. Housman

June 22, 2021

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In a recent webinar, Dr. Housman spoke to a group of over 3,000 early childhood professionals on "The Power of Emotional Intelligence from Birth to Age 8.” The webinar was framed around the impact the pandemic has on children, as well as educators and caregivers. As we move toward our "new normal", and a new school year, we are also facing a new pandemic for students and educators — one of mental health.  Yes, this time has resulted in learning loss for many, but before we can address that we must first focus on the emotional well-being of students and all those who educate and care for them. 

Dr. Housman's webinar brought forward many questions from the audience, questions we are all thinking about as we ponder the coming school year.  Here are just a few of those questions and Dr. Housman's responses.  Please see below to access the entire webinar.  

Q: In terms of child development and brain science, do children develop self-regulation on their own, as they grow, or does it have to be modeled and taught?

A: Children are born with the propensity to develop self-regulation. But they need empathic responsive relationships with significant adults to help them develop and build the emotional competencies to constructively deal with and manage their feelings and understand those of others

Q: What can we do when the adults in the child's life—parents, teachers, and others—are all suffering from stress that is impacting the student, like what happened during the past year of the pandemic?

A: That's a great question. Well, in that kind of a situation when everybody is feeling stressed, the hope is that the adult can take a step back, take a deep breath, and recognize that they are filled with a lot of emotion, as are the people around them. And when they’re responding to another person—whether it's their child, or someone else’s child—to be able to talk with them in a calm, measured and regulated tone. And that means being aware of their own emotions so that they don't respond with a lot heightened and intensified emotion, which only in turn exacerbates and can intensify the emotion in the child. So that's why it's so very helpful and important for us to first try to be really aware of what we're feeling. And what typically happens is that our body tells us, alerts us before we may actually be aware of it ourselves. So listening and reading our body gives us cues as to what emotions we may be feeling – when we’re aware of what we’re feeling, then we can act accordingly, in a more controlled manner.

Q: From what age to what age are children at the most optimal time for developing their emotional intelligence?

A: Well you know, children are born ready to learn and the most important time, if you're able to, is to start to introduce this from birth. Children's first language is that of emotion, so the way they're communicating and the way they're receiving information is through really tuning in to emotion around them. So this is an ideal time, from earliest on, when the brain is so very malleable to the experiences that the child is having. To be able to start at that early point is ideal because that helps to really inform and shape the architecture of the brain for life. So, the window from 0 to 3 years of age is a perfect time to start introducing these skills.

Q: How has this past year with caregivers wearing masks affected the social-emotional development in our infants and toddlers in particular?

A: Another great question because children read our faces in terms of emotions, so when they were covered by masks, that was important part of our face in terms of their ability to read what we were feeling that was not present for them. So during that period of time, teachers really need to articulate more about what it is that they're feeling and what they start to see and sense in terms of the children around them. So again, identifying and labeling the emotion they feel and see, with also a reason as to what may be causing that feeling and then what can we do to help address the situation at hand. There was a period of time when they were offering these clear masks so that you could see through them and therefore, the child would be able to read your entire face. I'm surprised that didn't catch on more, honestly. That strikes me as very easy to do and very important.

Q: How can we help children who have so many different types of temperaments—hard, easy, feisty? How do you get a child to listen when they are very verbal and they're frustrated and they don't want to stop to listen?

A: Well you know, that can happen not only with children, but with adults, too. It's really important when the child is really having a hard time listening to what you're saying to be able to really have the child look at you and be able to say, "I need you to listen to what I'm saying. This is important right now and I can't help you when you're talking so loud or yelling because you can’t hear what I’m saying. I need you to put on your listening ears so that you can hear what I'm going to say." And is it more effective if you raise your voice and speak over them? It’s really not. What if you speak even more softly so they have to lean in and get curious? Raising the voice only raises the temperature in the room, so it's really important to be clear, firm, and speak in your normal tone. Because the quieter we are, the more child has to calm down in order to really listen to what we're saying. And keep in mind they do want our help – they need our help.

Q: How can we support disregulated students who come from extremely adverse childhood experiences?

A: Earlier in the presentation we were talking about toxic stress, the higher kind of stress from mild or moderate. That is really important because after working with the family for a period of time, it may also require seeking additional support to help the child and the family begin to recognize and identify some of the issues that are going on. The issues are what is feeding into the disregulated behavior, because children typically express what's going on not only just about themself, but often times express what is going on within the family through their behavior. So their behavior is really speaking loud and clear that there is a problem that really needs and warrants attention.

Q: How does one implement these kinds of building blocks that you've spoken about with communities and families in extreme poverty or adverse situations?

A: Well, these building blocks can be taught no matter what kind of a situation a child may be living in or coming from, and that's really important to know. And again, just identifying first and foremost what the child is feeling is an important part of the building blocks. You know, we take for granted that people or children should know if they're happy, they're angry, they're sad. But they really need help in beginning that process of not only identifying the emotion, but labeling it and then beginning to understand the differences between the emotions with the support and help from the significant caregiver and educator. It’s also important to give them permission to express emotions in constructive ways, not destructive, and to be able to identify what is constructive so they can tell you that they're angry. You know, all feelings are fine, and that's what children need to hear from us. No matter what those feelings are, the cozy ones, the prickly ones, but what really is important is what they do with these feelings, and it's up to us to help them learn how to manage and regulate these emotions so that they can express them in constructive ways. We're not here to stop the feeling, we're just here to help rechannel the action/behavior into words, which is more organizing and less disorganized. Once the emotion is expressed and experienced in ways that are constructive and more manageable it provides them with the opportunity to then move to the next stage, which is that of problem solving and resolving conflicts.

Q: Do you have any tips or advice for those who work with children outside of a school setting on how to apply these concepts?

A: An example would be a children's librarian. You know, books are a wonderful way to really help children to develop emotional competence. As you're reading a book and you're talking about the characters in the book, you can ask them what the character may be feeling in the book, and then eventually theyare able to bring it back to themselves. You could say, “Well, I wonder if you've ever felt this way or if you've ever had this experience or they know of anybody that has.” Once the child begins to learn that when the situation has been answered through the characters in the book and it's worked out really well, and nobody has been teased for it — and as a matter of fact, have been supported in learning more about it —they feel more safe and secure in talking about their own emotions.

View Dr. Housman's Webinar "The Power of Emotional Intelligence from Birth to  Age 8"



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