What about emotional intelligence?
When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, education was entirely focused on learning basic academic skills. As a card-carrying member of the Sputnik generation, school was very competitive. The space race with the Soviet Union resulted in teachers trying to cram students with facts, like stuffing a turkey on thanksgiving.
But in the last decade, educators realized that academic knowledge alone does not predict success in life or result in high performance at work.
In today’s world, most work is performed in “teams” where social and emotional intelligence are an integral part of success.
How do adults cope with disappointment at work and at home? How do they manage ambiguity (when expectations are unclear)? How do they deal with frustration? How do they communicate with co-workers? How do handle conflict? How do they cope with their own anxiety? How self-aware are they? The playground of adult life has more social and emotional challenges than any blacktop during recess.
Jennifer Kahn (New York Times, Sept 11, 2013) wrote an interesting article titled “Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught” that examines whether these skills can be taught to children. She described a 2011 study that collected data on 17,000 British infants that were followed over five decades. The researchers found that the child’s mental well being correlated strongly with future success. IQ points aren’t everything.
There is a great deal of validity to this observation. Look around at work. The most successful individuals may not be the smartest ones. They are generally the adults that “play well” with others. They are good at managing their emotions effectively and don’t clutch when they face a problem or conflict. They can handle ambiguity and frustration effectively. They know how to ask for help. They get upset, but they manage it well. These same skills play well at home too. There are few greater challenges than making an intimate relationship work well and raising a child. These same abilities are required.
As a result, school systems are looking at ways to help children develop these social and emotional skills, much like learning the 3 R’s. These programs are still in their infancy and educators are uncertain about 1) how to measure emotional awareness and 2) whether these programs can produce lasting change.
Many of the social emotional learning (SEL) programs in schools were developed within the context of reducing bullying and aggression at school. One such program, called Second Step, was developed in 1986 and is now used in 25,000 schools in the United States and Canada. Children watch videos of common social problems and then the teacher asks the children to discuss how they might handle the conflict. When is it appropriate to apologize to a friend? How do you determine who is responsible for a borrowed item that was accidentally ruined? The students argue back and forth, and finally the teacher provides the lesson point—if something is in your possession you are responsible for it. But does this really teach children how to process complex social intercourse or does it just provide a formula that might be hard to apply as life becomes more complicated?
Other programs, like one called “Ruler” integrates emotional awareness into daily school life rather than just in programmed lessons. Every morning, kids identify their “mood” before class begins. Emotional awareness, interpersonal communication, and empathy are identified throughout the school day. This approach is far more difficult to implement, but may help in developing greater emotional self-awareness.
Some educators imagine that this kind of education, one that focuses on emotional awareness, self-regulation, and interpersonal communication, could result in a different world as children grow up and become adults.
Some months ago, I watched two parents drill their 6 year old on the alphabet while having lunch. Indeed, it may be more important to help children learn their emotional and social ABC’s. They will need those skills to successfully navigate through adult life.
How do you help your children develop social and emotional intelligence?