Parents must be careful not to unintentionally socialize their children to behave in ways that may inhibit their emotional expression as doing so may result in intellectual delays.

Recently I was in the park with my granddaughter. I was glad to see so many kids engaged in face-to-face socialization, albeit many wore masks. My granddaughter met another little girl, and they decided to combine their toys, which included dolls, trucks, cars, cartoon figures, rocks, leaves, and sticks. They had pretty much built a stage, and all the people, bugs, and animals in the park were their audience.

A little boy, who looked like he was approximately six years old, approached the two thespian little girls and asked if he could join the play. He was intrigued by the age-appropriate role-play that he was witnessing. They agreed, and the little boy immediately took on one of the characters. His father told him to come away from there. The little boy hung his head and disappointedly walked away. The boy's father did not respond to his reaction.

The little boy quickly recovered and ran off to continue playing. The father returned to a spot where he could monitor his son's safety. A few minutes later, I noticed the little boy playing with another little boy. They were grabbing handfuls of tanbark out of the play area and placing it atop a play structure. They would then take turns pushing the tanbark all over the play structure into the path of other children. Some kids had to stop playing to go around the two active boys to avoid running through the tanbark; other kids asked the boys to stop throwing the tanbark. I noticed that the little boy who had asked to play with the girls was acting aggressively, pushing the tanbark with force and ignoring the kids' pleas for him to stop. The boy's father still did not react.

I started to reflect on the art of socialization. Specifically, I wondered if the parent would later explain why his son could not play with the little girls or how the child would interpret the experience in the absence of further explanation.

In 2019, Jacobs et al. studied over 80 families and found that parents of children with intellectual disabilities use more unsupportive reactions to their children's emotions. Non-responsive parents may ignore their child's feelings or respond harshly to what the parents identify as inappropriate negative emotions such as pouting or frustration.

Jacob's study results imply that intellectual ability connects to emotional health. The emotion-intelligence correlation makes sense because emotions are essential to communication, and communication is the method used to demonstrate intelligence. Emotions may be a vital building block to communication. How we feel gives us a lot to discuss.

In the 4th century, Aristotle identified 14 emotions, including fear, confidence, anger, friendship, calm, hostility, shame, shamelessness, pity, kindness, envy, indignation, emulation, and contempt. By the 20th century, Professor Emeritus Robert Plutchik had narrowed the list down to eight primary emotions: joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation. All of these emotions present teachable moments. Parents can increase their child's intellectual ability by asking them to describe their emotions at the moment. So when that little thespian hopeful that I observed in the park hung his head and walked away from the little girls, that would have been an excellent time to ask him what he was feeling.

Suggesting that parents talk to their children about their emotions is consistent with the literature that strongly suggests that parents start talking to their children about everything as soon as they leave the womb. Hearing and seeing others articulate words is the easiest method to increase a child's vocabulary and overall knowledge (Duke and Moses).

This current return to the in-person learning season is a great time to talk to kids about emotions. A question that every parent should ask their school-age child is, "how do you feel about returning to school?" If they give you a one-word answer, "Okay," ask them to say more.

Finally, In addition to academic intelligence, parents should be vigilant about emotional intelligence. Very often, kids are socialized to mask their emotions. Some kids laugh at times when they should be taking things seriously. The American Psychological Association refers to this as Inappropriate Affect. This reaction may result from kids not being allowed to express the range of emotions identified by Professor Plutchick.

I hope that the little boy in the park's dad explained why he did not think it was a good idea to play with the girls. More importantly, I hope the little boy is allowed to express and talk about a range of emotions as he matures into adulthood.

Sources

American Psychological Association. Inappropriate Affect. (n.d.). In Alleydog.com's online glossary. Retrieved from: https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition-cit.php?term=Inappropriate+Affect

Duke, N. & Moses, A. 10 research-tested ways to build children’s vocabulary. Scholastic. http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/readingline/pdfs/ProfessionalPaper.pdf

Jacobs et al., (2019). The Unforeseen Influence of Parents’ Socialization Behaviors on the Social Adjustment of Children with Intellectual Disabilities. Psychology, 10(9).

Plutchik, R. (N.D.) Plutchik’s wheel of emotions: Exploring the emotion wheel.

• Lisa Hill, Ph.D., is an associate professor in criminal justice at California State University, East Bay and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She also worked for county and federal probation departments for three decades and wrote a book based on that experience. She and her husband live in Tracy and have four children. Contact her at courageousconversations209@gmail.com.

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