Special Guest Blogger: Tom Lottman, Children, Inc., Covington, KY
“…..all our morality appears but as a plaster hiding a sore it can never cure, and all our well-doing as the hollowest substitute for that well-being that our lives ought to be grounded in, but, alas! are not.”
-William James (1902)
Whether it’s the boisterous laughter on the playground or anxiety in the classroom, emotions in children are contagious. But, if we watch carefully, the way that social and emotional situations are dealt with vary, sometimes subtly, and sometimes profoundly from child to child.
In recent years the link between social and emotional learning (SEL) and academic success has been well established. SEL has become an accepted and celebrated component of educating the whole child. However, I wonder if we have given enough thought to exactly “what” is being learned in SEL. I suggest the SEL field is too concerned with the acquiring of prescribed prosocial skill sets at the expense of acquiring individual positive mindsets. Said another way, we are too focused on behavioral “well-doing” and not sufficiently focused on experiential “well-being.”
In preschool, kindergarten and early primary grades we all agree that the skills of turn-taking, cooperation, and perspective-taking are crucial to academic and life success. However, we seem less concerned about what are the beliefs the child is learning and developing about herself, other people and the world in general.
These belief systems are the “subjective” filters through which the “objective” world is perceived and understood. They are what Alfred Adler described as “schemas of apperception” almost a hundred years ago. Yet in SEL, little attention is placed on how these belief systems develop. Do we understand how EVENTS in the life of a child are sufficiently attended to so that they become meaningful EXPERIENCES that are connected to other events to become part of narrative MEMORIES that in turn are rehearsed through self-talk so that they become BELIEFS by which she understands her world?
The fields of neuroscience and positive psychology describe the brain’s negativity bias through which a child is more likely to attend to, process and remember negative events than positive events. As educators, we would benefit from understanding how to help children attend to and process positive events into impactful experiences that are encoded in memory and nurtured to beliefs. Therefore, I suggest educators, parents, teachers, and practitioners begin to apply 4 key strategies. These are listed, each with an example, below:
The field of character science, a pillar of positive psychology, is uniquely positioned to be the nexus of both “well-being” and “well-doing.” The application of character strengths in education, and early childhood education in particular, means identifying and promoting the unique constellation of character strengths in each child.
Helping every child to notice, appreciate, and apply these emerging strengths in the classroom not only reinforces the likely repetition of prosocial “well-doing” but also the boosting of positive “well-being.”
Ansbacher, H.L., & Ansbacher, R.R. (1964). The individual psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D. & Schellinger, K.B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432.
James, W. The varieties of religious experience. (1902). Gifford lectures, University of Edinburgh. Boston: Harvard University Press.
Rozin, P., & Royzman, E.B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(4), 296-320.
About the author:
Tom Lottman is an early education administrator at Children, Inc. in Northern Kentucky and Research Director of Growing Sound, an initiative that produces research-based children’s music to promote social and emotional development.
Children Inc. (nonprofit focused on early childhood education)
VIA Institute (nonprofit focused on advancing character strengths research/practice)
VIA Classification (the universal classification of strengths and virtues)
VIA Survey (the research-validated test of character strengths)
Character Strengths Research (up-to-date science on character strengths)
Photo copyright (Children laughing): from Huffington Post