Case Study 6
In addition to acquiring perspective on their own experiences and their own reasoning, children should, at this age, begin to acquire perspective on their own emotions and to learn strategies for managing their emotions. Without these management skills, children will be continually overwhelmed by their emotions and allow them to compromise their reasoning. The anecdote below can be used as a model to help parents guide their children in learning to express and manage their emotions, and to think clearly in spite of strong emotional reactions.
Seven-year-old Eddie is on vacation by the sea with his parents, who suggest that they all go out and take a boat to a nearby island for a few hours. They can visit the lighthouse there.
Eddie, who is busy playing with his figurines, refuses to get ready for the trip as his parents have asked.
“I haven’t finished playing! I want to stay here,” he exclaims.
“You can play with your figurines at home whenever you want, Eddy, but this boat trip is special. It’s something we can only do on vacation,” argues his mother. “Come on now, hurry up and put your shoes on, and then go and get your bag. Take a jacket as well, please—it can be cold out at sea.”
Eddie’s parents are all ready, and he still has not budged. He carries on playing with his back to them.
“That’s enough now, Eddy. Get up and get ready so we can leave,” orders his father, raising his voice slightly.
Without looking at them, Eddy bursts into tears.
“I don’t want to go on a boat! I’m scared of falling in the ocean! And what if the boat sinks? There are sharks out there! Plus I get scared of swimming if I can’t touch the bottom—if the water is too deep for me,” he says with a quavering voice.
“Oh, Eddy, why didn’t you say so before? I didn’t realize you were worried about the boat. I didn’t even think of that. But you know what? It’s normal to be scared the first time. And the ocean is daunting, that’s for sure. Listen, I’ll tell you what: let’s look at the shipping forecast together. I checked it earlier and it’s going to be a really nice day, with a very calm sea. As for swimming offshore, that’s out of the question! We’ll go swimming at our usual beach when we get back later this afternoon. And we’ll all be wearing life jackets on the boat, so there’s no way you can drown! Are you less worried now?”
“Yes… But I don’t want you to think I’m a wimp…”
“Being scared is nothing to be ashamed of! It’s a normal feeling which helps to protect us from danger. You should always say if you’re scared. I can’t always guess how you’re feeling—you’ve got to tell me!”
In this scenario, after a bit of hesitation, Eddie was able to express his fears. His parents accepted this emotion and drew on it to reassure him with clear, objective facts, helping him to understand the unfamiliar circumstances. This way he could feel completely safe on the boat.
If Eddie had not expressed his fears—because he was afraid of his parents being judgmental, angry, or perhaps even making fun of him—the situation could have taken one of the following turns:
Eddie could have categorically refused to go on the trip, and his parents would either have had to force him to come, or drop the plan entirely.
Eddie could have obeyed them without saying anything, but the trip would have been ruined by his anxiety.
Although dealing with and expressing emotions may seem far afield from critical thinking, it is a vital precondition of critical and independent thinking that children have the confidence to recognize and acknowledge their emotions. Otherwise, children will be unable to set their emotions aside in order to consider complicated questions or scenarios in a clear and unbiased way.