10 ways for schools to gain traction with social-emotional learning programs

10 ways for schools to gain traction with social-emotional learning programs

Last year, schools ramped up social-emotional learning (SEL) to help students cope with the trauma of the pandemic and the nation’s racial reckoning. Now, many educators, buoyed by evidence of SEL’s value and parent surveys endorsing the emphasis on well-being in the classroom, say they are committed to SEL this year and beyond.

An influx of government money enabled schools to hire staff and launch SEL programs, which include lessons about showing empathy to others, managing emotions and developing responsible decision making.

“The case is easily made, if you think that learning happens in the context of relationships,” said Karen VanAusdal, senior director of practice at the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a nonprofit that produced an SEL roadmap to reopening schools. “If you focus on social-emotional learning in a high-quality way, not only do you see gains in social-emotional competence and growth you see gains in academic learning. We are trying to move away from this ‘either-or’ thinking to see this as a ‘both-and’ approach.’”

SEL tops the list of services parents want expanded, especially in urban areas, according to school district leaders polled in June by the Rand Corporation. Studies reveal declines in children’s behavioral health during the pandemic. In a July McGraw-Hill survey, 53 percent of educators said Covid-19 and the shift to remote learning have caused their students emotional distress and created attendance problems. About 8 in 10 educators and parents believe SEL has become more important, the poll indicates; stand-alone SEL programs have doubled in the past three years.

Still, schools may need to rely on local district funding to keep SEL programs going when the federal grants expire. And not everyone is convinced of the program’s value: Some skeptics fear it takes away from core instruction. Experts, however, point to years of research linking SEL to academic success and other benefits as evidence for continued investment. But perceptions vary, so communication with families is critical for schools and districts wanting to expand or maintain their SEL programs.

While many support the practices of social-emotional learning, they are leery of the program by that name. A report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit that promotes educational excellence, finds Republican parents are somewhat more wary than Democrats of SEL, but parents across the political spectrum are united in their disdain for the term “social-emotional learning,” preferring “life skills” instead.

Whatever SEL is called, experts maintain kids need extra care during times of uncertainty — and this year is going to be as turbulent as any, with schools opening, closing and quarantining, said Stephanie Jones, a professor of education at the Harvard School of Graduate Education and co-author an analysis of leading SEL programs, sponsored by the Wallace Foundation. (The Wallace Foundation is among the many supporters of The Hechinger Report.) “We really got to weave in those social and emotional supports early and spend time on it so kids begin to feel safe, secure, comfortable, excited. And then the learning stuff will happen.”

Experts recommend 10 best practices to consider when implementing SEL:

Take a systemic approach.

Include school administrators, teachers, support staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and all students in SEL activities. “Don’t go it alone. Engage your colleagues, explain to them why it’s important,” said Shai Fuxman, a senior research scientist with the Education Development Center, a Massachusetts-based global nonprofit that designs and evaluates education programs. “Every adult in the building has to think about their role in promoting these important skills,” he added. Experts also urge parents and educators to pay attention to bite-sized opportunities outside the classroom to reinforce the concepts, including lessons from out-of-school time programs (supervised programs that young people attend when school is not in session). “SEL happens in teachable moments, if you are doing it authentically,” said Joe Aleardi, executive director of Horizons Bridgeport, who used the SEL Kernels of Practice in enrichment programs for low-income students while working at another Horizon program at Greens Farms Academy in Connecticut.

Improving Family Relationships with Emotional Intelligence

Improving Family Relationships with Emotional Intelligence

There’s nothing like family. The people we’re related to by blood and marriage are expected to be our closest allies, our greatest sources of love and support. Too often, however, our interactions with family are filled with misunderstanding and resentment, bickering and badgering. Those we should know and be known by best, end up feeling like adversaries or strangers.

Family is where our first and strongest emotional memories are made, and that’s where they keep appearing. And this is why emotional intelligence (EQ) succeeds where other efforts at family harmony fail. Active awareness and empathy—the ability to be aware, accepting, and permanently attuned to ourselves and others—tells us how to respond to one another’s needs.

EQ is incredibly powerful in the family because it puts you in control of your relationships with parents and children, siblings, in-laws and extended family. When you know how you feel, you can’t be manipulated by other’s emotions; nor can you blame family conflict on everyone else. Most of the techniques for improving family relationships are therefore centered on communicating your feelings to those you care about, as close relationships are centered around feeling.

Without this emotional intimacy, family contact becomes a burden, because no one is comfortable spending that much time with a stranger. If you want your family members to know and accept each other lovingly, you have to begin with your own emotional honesty and openness. When you do, the suggestions offered below are transformed from familiar reasonable advice, to highly effective methods for bringing your family ever closer. The following ten tips will lead you closer to your family and emotional intelligence.

10 High-EQ Tips for Improving Family Relationships

  1. Take care of your health if you hope to take care of anyone else. The more demanding of your time your family is, the more you need to fit in exercise. Perhaps you and your family can seek out ways to exercise together.
  2. Listen if you expect to be heard. Lack of communication is the loudest complaint in most families. The answer to “Why won’t they listen to me?” may be simply “You’re not listening to them.”
  3. Teach emotional choice. Manage your moods by letting all feelings be OK, but not all behaviors. Model behavior that respects and encourages the feelings and rights of others yet make it clear that we have a choice about what to do with what we feel.
  4. Teach generosity by receiving as well as giving. Giving and receiving are parts of the same loving continuum. If we don’t give, we find it hard to receive, and if we can’t receive, we don’t really have much to give. This is why selflessness carried to extremes is of little benefits to others.
  5. Take responsibility for what you communicate silently. The very young and old are especially sensitive to nonverbal cues. More than our words, tone of voice, posture (body language), and facial expressions convey our feelings. We have to listen to our tone of voice and look at ourselves in pictures and in the mirror to assess our emotional congruency. Loving words coming through clenched teeth don’t feel loving—they feel confusing.
  6. Don’t try to solve problems for your loved ones. Caring for your family doesn’t mean taking charge of their problems, giving unsolicited advice, or protecting them from their own emotions. Let them know their own strengths and allow them to ask you for what they need.
  7. Make a lasting impression through actions. Your values will be communicated by your actions, no matter what you say. Be an example, not a nag.
  8. Acknowledge your errors to everyone, including younger family members. Saying you’re sorry when you hurt someone you love, models humility and emotional integrity. You can demonstrate that no one is perfect, but everyone can learn at any age. Apologizing proves you can forgive yourself and makes it easier to forgive others.
  9. Discover what each person’s unique needs are. You can’t assume that your grandmother needs the same signs of love as your three-year-old or that either one will have the same needs next year. When in doubt, ask!
  10. Be generous in expressing love. Everyone in a family (especially young children) needs the emotional reassurance of loving words, gestures, and looks. Those who demand the least emotional attention may need it most.

The foundations of emotional intelligence in the family

Look to yourself first. A family is a system made up of interdependent individuals, but that doesn’t mean you can blame your family of origin for the way you are today, any more than you can hold your mate and children responsible for your personal happiness. Your best hope for fixing any family problem is to attend your own emotional health. When you act on the belief that you have a right and obligation to assert your own emotional needs, your family will notice that your emotional independence benefits not only you, but the whole family, and they may quickly follow your lead.

Remember that consistency builds trust. Studies have shown that lack of consistency destroys trust. Off-and-on emotional awareness will cause those who love and depend on you, especially children, to get confused and frightened. That’s why it’s so important to keep your awareness active with family.

What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It so Important?

What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It so Important?

What is emotional Intelligence?

When we think about children going to school to get an education, thoughts of academic rigor usually appear at the forefront. However, the emotional wellness of a child should not be undervalued and is something that all school districts need to include as part of their school mission statements. No child should ever come to school in distress or fear of being around their peers.

This past October, I did an activity with my middle school students that honored “Unity Day.” In the United States, this day was started in 2011 by Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center as an opportunity to promote kindness, empathy, and inclusion among students across the nation. My students took the activity seriously and did a fantastic job coming together to express their thoughts on how to make others feel included. They offered solutions on what needs to be done to build an empathetic community which supports one another.

Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Marc Brackett, the director at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the author of Permission to Feel to get his thoughts on the topic of “emotional intelligence.”

What is emotional intelligence and why is it so important for children to strengthen this type of intelligence?

Dr. Brackett mentions: “Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize our own emotions and those of others, not just in the things we think, feel, and say, but also in our facial expressions, body language, vocal tones, and other nonverbal signals.” For instance, if someone uses the phrase “Is that so?” Depending on the intonation and the context that question is being used, it can serve to have multiple meanings, which can provoke specific reactions.

There is a correlation between emotional intelligence and overall success and happiness. Research shows that children with higher emotional intelligence tend to have less anxiety and depression and experience a greater overall well-being. They also achieve higher academically and have better quality relationships with their peers.

How can we help foster emotional intelligence in our children?

  • First and foremost, parents, educators, and any adults working with children should set good examples of effective communication, kindness, acceptance, and understanding toward all people.
  • Model effective emotion regulation strategies. By finding practical strategies for dealing with what we and others feel, we will be better able to regulate our emotions, rather than let them regulate us.

For example, when I want to feel more positive emotion, I immediately change what I am thinking, which changes my state of being. When I feel more anxious, I look at a fixed object, take slow, relaxed deep breaths to regain a sense of being more mindful in the moment. Often children with learning differences feel different in some way and may become alienated. Thus, it’s even more important to check in with them and support them in learning how to manage their emotions effectively.

To support the health of kids, stop focusing on their weight

To support the health of kids, stop focusing on their weight

Since the pandemic started, people of all ages have gained weight. At the same time, the rate at which youth and young adults are seeking treatment for eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder, has increased.

While the reasons for these changes are complex, pandemic-related stress and weight bias — the belief that a thin body is good and healthy, while a large body is bad and unhealthy — are prominent contributors.

As researchers who study health behaviors and are also parents of young children, we often see health research and health initiatives that place a disproportionate emphasis on weight.

That’s a problem for two big reasons.

First, it draws attention away from better predictors of chronic disease and strategies to address these factors. Although a high body mass index, or BMI, is one risk factor for various chronic diseases, it is only one of many, and far from the strongest. And while moderate weight loss does reduce chronic disease risk for some people, about 80 percent of individuals who manage to lose weight regain it. The other 20 percent describe their ongoing efforts to maintain their weight loss as stressful and exhausting.

Second, disproportionate emphasis on weight reinforces weight bias. Weight bias, in turn, contributes to weight-related discrimination, like bullying and teasing, which is common among youth. Across diverse samples surveyed, 25 percent to 50 percent of children and adolescents report being teased or bullied about their body size, and these experiences are linked to disordered eating and depression, as well as poorer academic performance and health.

To best support the physical and emotional health of children during this pandemic, we suggest reducing the emphasis on body size. Below are some specific tips for parents, teachers and medical providers.

1. Stop using the words ‘fat,’ ‘obese’ and ‘overweight’

When asked, children and adults with larger bodies consistently indicate that these are the least preferred and most stigmatizing terms to talk about body size, while “weight” and “body mass” are the most preferred.

So, consider modeling less stigmatizing language. For example, if your teen refers to her friend as “overweight,” respond by saying, “Yes, your friend does have a larger body.” Likewise, if your doctor refers to your child as “obese,” ask them to share their “body mass index percentile” instead. Or, better yet, ask them not to talk about weight at all, which leads us to our next recommendation.

2. Focus on health behaviors

Physical activity, eating habits and emotional support from friends and family are stronger predictors of disease and death than BMI, and all of these have been greatly affected by COVID-19.

Considering that behavioral weight loss programs are ineffective for the majority of people, we recommend focusing on behaviors that are more easily changed and have stronger influences on health and well-being. Regular physical activity, for example, improves mood and lowers risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, even in the absence of weight loss.

What Parents Can Do To Shape Their Kids' Early Memories

What Parents Can Do To Shape Their Kids’ Early Memories

Over the past 18 months, many parents have asked themselves: How much of the pandemic will my children remember? And how might those lasting memories — as well as all the others they carry from their childhood — shape who they become?

I’ve personally wondered about that with my own children, especially my toddler, who has now lived more than half his life during an unprecedented global health crisis. I like to think he’s generally a happy kid who’s had a happy life so far, but how do I know if he’ll be carrying around some not-so-lovely COVID-19 memories for years to come?

While memory is complex and many of those questions can’t really be answered, what is clear to experts is that kids’ memories are stronger and better than they once thought. The long-term memories they form may not be totally reliable, but they can still recollect a remarkable amount from their early years.

Here’s why that matters, and what parents can do about it:

The idea that kids can’t remember anything before age 3 is wrong

Sometimes when I’m annoyed with my toddler’s antics and I’m not necessarily being the nicest, most patient mom, I comfort myself with the idea that he probably won’t remember any of this.

Not so, according to Carole Peterson, a professor who studies language and memories at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada.

“Children often remember farther into the past than we once believed they could,” she told HuffPost.

Several of Peterson’s studies focus on a phenomenon known as “childhood amnesia,” or the idea that kids (and adults!) remember very little about life before age 3 or 4. For decades, experts thought that childhood amnesia was due to the fact that kids’ brains simply could not form memories before a certain point.

But Peterson and other researchers have found that that’s not necessarily true. One of Peterson’s studies, for example, showed that children who have medical emergencies when they’re just 2 years old — and who are interviewed years later — can absolutely remember central components of their experiences. They may not remember them as clearly as children who were older at the time of their health events, but the memories were still there. Other studies suggest that children remember things that happened to them when they were around 3 very well at age 5, 6 and 7, but they start to lose those memories around age 8 or 9.

All of this is to say there isn’t a clear consensus about when young kids form lasting memories, and it depends on the child. Kids also tend to not be very good at accurately dating their memories, Peterson said, which complicates our understanding of all of this. A 4-year-old, for example, might recall an event from when they were 2 but think it was relatively recent.

The bottom line for parents, Peterson said, is that children may indeed remember things earlier than we think they do.

Emotional events tend to stick with children the most

“Anything that is emotionally salient, kids will remember more often,” Jenny Yip, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist, previously told HuffPost. That’s true for both younger kiddos and older children.

In our present moment, that means kids who’ve had a particularly hard stretch during the pandemic might hold on to those memories more than others.

Expert-approved tips to calm down when you're angry

Expert-approved tips to calm down when you’re angry

Anger is an important instrument for anyone’s emotional toolbox. It protects, helps discharge stress and can bring words and feelings to the surface that may need to be expressed to help relationships grow.

But the manner in which one handles feelings of anger can lead to vastly different outcomes. “There’s nothing wrong with anger, it’s what you do with it that matters,” said Dr. Joseph Shrand, an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of “Outsmarting Anger: 7 Steps for Defusing Our Most Dangerous Emotion.”

Indeed, the author of “The 5 Love Languages,” Gary Chapman, has counseled countless families and couples over his career and has seen numerous instances in which mismanaged anger destroys marriages, fractures friendships and sometimes even separates parents from children. “Much of my counseling has been in helping individuals understand and process anger,” he said.

Why we get angry

It’s helpful to understand why we get angry in the first place. “In human relationships, anger is the emotion that arises when we feel that we have been wronged or in some way mistreated,” Chapman said. “It’s a call for action to right the wrong. However, when we yield to our first impulse, we usually make things worse.”

Shrand had a similar take: “We feel anger because we want something to be different. We wish someone would stop doing something or start doing something,” he said. He explained that when we’re angry, the part of the brain in charge of managing emotional responses known as the limbic system, gets ready for a fight. In such a state, “we can get impulsive, irrational and lash out without thinking,” he warned.

“Anger is part of the brain’s fight-or-flight response, so it has to do with our survival instinct,” said Stephen Dansiger, an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing clinician and author of “Mindfulness for Anger Management.” He described some of the body’s physiological responses when angry: a rising heart rate, muscle tension, sweating and heightened hearing and vision. “The body is literally preparing to deal with the perceived threat,” he said.

What to do with our anger

Problem is, such base instincts may perceive threats where no real danger exists. “When we’re angry, we see ourselves as a hammer and everyone around us as a nail,” said Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.” That may include reacting to an insensitive comment from a spouse or to a child who just threw their plate of food on the floor. In such instances, Markham warns, “there is no real threat, but our bodies react as if there is.”

The best way to deal with anger, the experts said, is to diffuse it. That means doing whatever it takes to remind your brain there isn’t really a threat or emergency and that it’s time to calm down.

“There’s an entire body of research on how to calm down and retrain the nervous system,” Markham said. She suggested techniques like running your hands under cold water, taking deep breaths, getting some fresh air, humming, shaking your wrists, counting backwards from 100 until you start to feel calm again, or even forcing a laugh or a smile to trick your brain into switching gears. “These are all research-supported ways to calm down in the moment,” she said.