The power of emotional intelligence in strange times: How books can help us understand our feelings

Published on: 19 April 2020

Author Tom Percival's new book introduces ideas of emotional intelligence to children - but why exactly is it so important? Here, he tells us why we all need to be more in touch with our feelings...

Author Tom Percival and the front cover of his book Attack of the Heebie Jeebies

These are strange times indeed. Although I'm sure everyone is well aware of that! I dare say that all the cats up and down the country are scratching their heads and wondering, 'What exactly are the Two-Legs doing in OUR houses, ALL THE TIME?'

In times like this, it's even more important that we're all aware of our feelings. There's a phrase called 'emotional intelligence', which basically just means being aware of our feelings and crucially, of other people's feelings too. You could call it emotional understanding.

So, if you came up to me and said, 'I'm sad because I miss my friends' and I replied, 'Oh yeah? I bet you are, but STILL, I've just beaten my top-score on Sonic the Hedgehog!' that would not display a huge amount of emotional intelligence on my part. I'd say that's somewhere in the region of the emotional intelligence of an otter, who, despite their reputation as the cutest of river dwelling mammals are really quite selfish and just WILL NOT stop playing computer games.*

Exploring emotional intelligence through stories

My new book series The Dream Team explores the idea of emotional understanding in a fun, fast-paced and exciting way. The Dream Team are a group of supernatural characters who live in the Dreamscape, the strange and mysterious world that our consciousness goes to when we dream.

In the first book, Attack of the Heebie Jeebies, we meet Erika, who has anger issues... severe anger issues! So the Dream Team is sent in to help. Erika meets Wade, a very big, very strong and very grumpy stone man, and Silas, a hyper-enthusiastic shadow boy who is fond of doing 'thumbs-up' gestures and embarrassing winks. She also meets the leader of the Dream Team, Madam Hettyforth, and Sim, a shapeshifter who is sometimes a boy, sometimes a girl, sometimes a table lamp but ALWAYS kind and thoughtful. Not to mention the Heebie Jeebies, who can only talk in pictures. But I won't tell you too much about them as they play a BIG part in the book!

Over the course of her adventures in this magical dreamworld, Erika is able to get to the bottom of WHY she has been feeling so angry, and as a result, she is able to start changing the way that she behaves and starts to feel better about her life. To my mind, this is the key to improving our emotional wellbeing.

We need to understand how and why we feel the way that we do. Of course, I'm not saying that nobody should ever feel angry, or ever feel sad. It's vital that we openly explore and express the feelings that we have, but we need to be able to READ these feelings too. The emotions that we have are like a tool that we can use to make sense of the world around us.

Using our emotions to navigate the world

Our ancestors would have seen the flickery, pretty orange lights that dance over tree stumps after lightning had struck and would have gathered around in awestruck wonder, marvelling at the beauty and the warmth it gave off. Then one of them would have stuck their hand into what we now call 'fire' and would have yelled out,

'Uggg, UG! Ugg, Ug, Ugg!' Which roughly translates as, 'My hand, my blinking hand! It hurts so much!'

And from then on, people would have been wary of sticking their hands into fire. The same goes for sound and sight. Our senses are tools that enable us to navigate the world safely.

Our emotions also help us to do this. We feel angry when we see an injustice and it then encourages us to do something to change that situation. We feel happy when someone smiles and that encourages us to form positive friendships with people. But the important thing to note is that the emotion we feel is just the FIRST STEP in the chain. You need to work out what the emotion is and where it is coming from, and THEN you can try to change your behaviour accordingly.

If you just feel the emotion without considering why you feel that way, then it will take you a lot longer to work your way through to a positive outcome.

So it's OKAY to feel angry, it's OKAY to feel confused, or sad, or worried, or anything else that you might be feeling. But please try to get to the bottom of why you feel that way.

To my mind, the best way to start doing that is by talking. It's amazing what you unearth when you start talking to people about the way that you feel. You might discover that your friend, who always seems super-confident, has worries and fears of their own. Or you might find that the person you're talking to has felt exactly the same way that you're feeling now and can help you to feel better.

... Or you might find that you're talking to a dog and IT CAN TALK BACK! But I think that's probably unlikely, unless of course, you happen to be having an adventure with the Dream Team!

So, stay calm, stay active and keep talking... (Oh yeah, buy my book too!)

*This is a joke, I have no idea if otters are selfish or not, I've never even met an otter and I apologise unreservedly for slandering the good name of 'otter'.

More stories to help children talk about their feelings

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