"Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships"
- John Gottman, Author -
Appreciating that emotional awareness and self-regulatory skills are a linchpin in personal success has brought greater focus to educational aims. Giving children the tools of emotional health is bringing such insight into practice.
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is an entirely new field that has been birthed as a result of our recent understanding of emotion, biology, intelligence relative to happiness or success (http://www.casel.org/). It is one great step ahead in our common recognition that emotional health is at the crux of children's well being.
Mark Greenberg, SEL pioneer at Penn State, suggests that "we can teach children how to overcome and manage emotions such as fear, hatred, anger and anxiety. SEL programs have proven that children can develop lifelong abilities such as self-awareness, anger management and impulse control, and positive qualities such as empathy and compassion."
Gone are the days where "boys don't cry" will be spoken by the second grade teacher. Adding an SEL curriculum to school systems is one great step forward. Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and New Jersey are pioneering the way. It is not a quick fix though. For it to be effective it will require:
· Teachers modeling emotional intelligence
· Atmosphere of emotional acceptance (i.e. boys can cry, girls can get mad)
· Creativity (i.e. multiple learning styles)
· More than just words (i.e. field trips, practice, creative projects)
· Phased implementation
A central concern I have is that a social and emotional learning curriculum gets mandated in public school and it becomes another education reform initiative. Soon children feel it is just another "class" to pass.
Emotionally Aware Parents
Although both "healthy" and "emotionally distressed" children appeared to benefit from the SEL curriculum we all know one large root of emotional health - the parents. Carl Jung was quoted as saying if you want to change something in your child, then first "examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves." This much I know is true.
Square one, to me, is always the parents. What are they modeling? How do they nurture their child? Is their child spirited (hyperactive), depressed or emotionally balanced? Do they lead by emotionally healthy example? Does their child have a creative outlet to let negative emotions exit?
Much of my time is spent guiding parents on techniques that foster emotional learning in their children (and ultimately themselves). My suggestion is to implement emotional learning programs for parents as well as their young children. It is the perfect bookend to propel real change in our communities. It is also a "pet project" of mine to produce a pamphlet for parents on the topic.
Great things are born of necessity. Our world has shifted in such dramatic ways whereas children have been forced to face terrorist attacks (i.e. 9-11), traumas (school shootings), illnesses (cancer), loss (divorced parents, deaths) and maltreatment in such high incidence rates that the need for emotional education is undisputed. And it is this type of teaching that has the potency to prepare a child for triumphing over life's tests and trials on the path to fulfilling their potential.
Education Commission of the States
Illinois State Board of Education
Educating the Heart by Melvin McLeod, Shambhala Sun, January 2007.
Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
Social and Emotional Learning: What is it? How can we use it to help our children. By Robin Stern of NYU Child Study Center (http://www.aboutourkids.org/articles/social_emotional_learning_what_it_h...)