Guest-Blog: Ordinary Conversations – Extraordinary Opportunities

In this post Dr Rob Pluke examines the way in which ordinary conversations within school environments can be seen as opportunities to provide scaffolding for boys’ emotional development.


The benefits of emotional intelligence are now well-established. However, many boys struggle to understand themselves and their emotions and find it difficult to talk about their everyday challenges. Recent neurological and psychological research shows that certain conversational strategies can make a real difference when it comes to helping a young person to build emotional intelligence. These strategies are manageable for teachers and parents alike.

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The importance of EQ

As relational beings we are all designed to interact. Our brains are structured to connect socially, and relationship skills can be developed throughout our whole lives. Relationships are crucial to building emotional intelligence and in turn EQ is vital for general health, and functioning well both socially and academically. With a well-developed EQ we can fulfil our potential, manage adversity, persevere and be happy. What we find though is an increasing incidence of emotional difficulties in young people together with underdeveloped emotional intelligence. It is for this reason that constructive relationships are more important than ever.

What young people need

Good conversations embedded in a positive relationship are a life-long resource; they build emotional intelligence (self/other awareness). Good conversations help us to think, and as Daniel Siegel puts it, “a good question sends us on a good quest”. Such a quest helps the mind focus and activates prefrontal circuits in the brain, in turn helping them grow stronger. Constructive focused thought also boosts self-regulation and resilience.

Essentially young people cannot develop EQ of their own accord and need us as adults to provide the scaffolding through conversations to help them build this type of intelligence. This can be done using a three-step process.

Step 1 – Listen to their stories

The first step is to allow young people to tell their stories and for us to listen so that we can understand them. Good questions and responses can aid this. Once we truly understand the situation a young person is in we are in a position to help them develop self-regulation, the second step of good conversations.

Step 2 – Encourage self-regulation

Allowing teenagers to describe or write their stories and feelings fosters a measure of personal control over circumstances. Young people can also be taught self-regulatory skills like physical movement, breathing and relaxation, all of which can help them in this area.

Step 3 – Help them to act with wisdom

Finally, once young people feel understood and have had a chance to self-regulate, we can consider the third and final stage, that of acting with wisdom. We can help young people to gain perspective by reflecting on the possible consequences of their choices, their values – what feels right and good so that the person can remember the time without any regrets.

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



Rob Pluke
Dr Rob Pluke is a psychologist in private practice. Over the years Rob has lectured part-time at UKZN and acted as supervisor on the Psychology Masters programme. Rob presents workshops and talks to parents and schools and earlier this year he presented a paper on his doctoral study at the 3rd Emotional Intelligence African Summit. He has also written several articles for parenting magazines. Rob has worked extensively with children and adolescents and is the author of the book, ‘Parenting the Sensitive Child’.

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