Kids are all wired differently – that is why emphasizing Emotional Intelligence and Social Emotional Learning in school is vital.
I was hiking with a friend the other day, and we were discussing some of the differences in schooling years ago versus today. It didn’t take long before we got to the issue of stress and expectations placed on kids these days versus back in the ’60s and ’70s. Of course, I realize that many of my readers are now the children of us students!
While kids were always expected to “act properly” and “perform to expectations,” there was not much direct instruction nor support for the kids who did not consistently do as they were told, or act in ways that were “appropriate” for the situation at hand. For kids who struggled, assumptions were often made about their intelligence, abilities, character – and their parents. Now, fortunately, many schools are starting in incorporate “Social Emotional Learning” into their classrooms.
If you are not familiar with the term “Social Emotional Learning” (SEL), it relates to
helping children and adults learn to understand and manage their emotions so that they can act responsibly and empathetically, set and achieve meaningful goals, and make responsible decisions. In a recent Time magazine article, the Dali Lama was quoted as saying that starting in Kindergarten, children should be taught about “taking care of emotion.” He says, “Whether religious or not, as a human being we should learn more about our system of emotion so that we can tackle destructive emotion, in order to become more calm, have more inner peace.” Why does this matter in school? Because the emotional intelligence plays a large role in one’s ability to perceive, process, and ultimately learn. Those who can work collaboratively and communicate effectively are better able to perform better academically now and, in the workplace, later.
Fortunately, today there is greater awareness of neurodiversity (normal variations in the human brain). I know that when we hear the word “spectrum”, it is often associated with Autism. But in reality, we are all on a spectrum; we each learn, process, and respond differently to information, expectations, and life’s challenges. In fact, I think this has become even more evident in recent years with the Dress Color and Yanny/ Laurel debates. To me, these “controversies” prove how differently we each experience the world. As I often say to my own children, our role is not to judge, rather to understand the other person’s experience and know that it is true for them.
With greater awareness that we each are born with a unique makeup (independent of how
and where we are raised and education), comes the responsibility and opportunity to find the balance between allowing people to be their “true” selves, yet helping each develop to their “best” selves. One of the greatest challenges people have in becoming their “best” selves lies in their ability to manage their emotions. Those who are unable to regulate their emotions experience greater stress, challenges, and risks in all areas of life.
When my children were in grade school, there was an emphasis on “Character Development.” I remember watching Barney, the purple dinosaur, singing “Kids for Character” over and over and over! I believe adding an emphasis on SEL in school is an essential step toward helping all students gain in personal development as well as academic development. The challenge is making the time for this along with the already demanding curriculum teachers are expected to teach, and students are expected to learn. During the teacher training programs that I provide, we explore how these lessons can be woven into daily activities and curriculum. While the changes cannot always happen overnight, the payoff is tremendous. Helping kids learn to harness their great strengths while managing their emotions and actions helps them learn and perform at a much higher level.
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