A strong public demand is arising in the US for schools to implement effective educational approaches that promote not only academic success but also enhance health, and prevent problem behaviors.
[This article is adapted with permission from: Lantieri L. (2008) Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children. Sounds True, Boulder, CO]
A strong public demand is arising in the US for schools to implement effective educational approaches that promote not only academic success but also enhance health, and prevent problem behaviors. A US poll of registered voters released by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills ( http://www.21stcenturyskills.org ) in 2007 reported than 66% felt that students needed a broader range of skills than just the basics of reading, writing and math. 80% said that the skills that students need today to be prepared for the jobs of the 21st century are very different from what was needed 20 years ago.
In fact, a growing body of research suggests that helping children develop good social and emotional skills early in life makes a big difference in their long-term health and well-being. In his groundbreaking book Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998), Daniel Goleman identified EQ – emotional intelligence – as being as important as IQ in terms of children’s healthy development and future life success. He writes (1998, 19):
“Given how much emphasis schools and admissions tests put on it, IQ alone explains surprisingly little of achievement in work or life. When IQ test scores are correlated with how well people perform in their careers, the highest estimate of how much difference IQ accounts for is about 25 percent. (Hunter & Schmidt 1984: Schmidt & Hunter 1981). A careful analysis though, suggests a more accurate figure may be no higher than 10 percent, and perhaps as low as 4 percent (Sternberg 1996).”
Goleman’s work has helped us understand the importance of emotional intelligence as a basic requirement for the effective use of one’s IQ; that is, one’s cognitive skills and knowledge. He made the connection between our feelings and our thinking more explicit by pointing out how the brain’s emotional and executive areas are interconnected physiologically, especially as these areas relate to teaching and learning.
Brain science tells us that a child’s brain goes through major growth that does not end until the mid-twenties. Neuroplasticity, as scientists call it, means that the sculpting of the brain’s circuitry during this period of growth depends to a great degree on a child’s daily experiences. Environmental influences on brain development are particularly powerful in shaping a child’s social and emotional neural circuits. Young people who learn how to calm down when they are upset, for instance, seem to develop greater strength in the brain’s circuits for managing distress (Goleman 2008).
In New York City classrooms and elsewhere, teachers are beginning to equip young people with the skills to be aware of and regulate their emotions more effectively. And it seems that the regular practice of these contemplative skills strengthens the brain circuits that underlie emotional regulation. The benefits of such a regular practice can include (Lantieri 2008, 10):
- Increased self-awareness and self-understanding
- Greater ability to relax the body and release physical tension
- Improved concentration
- The ability to deal with stressful situations more effectively by creating a more relaxed way of responding to stressors
- Greater control over one’s thoughts, with less domination by unwelcome thoughts
- Greater opportunity for deeper communication and understanding between adults and children, because thoughts and feelings are being shared on a regular basis
We, as the adults in children’s lives, can’t keep telling our children countless times to “calm down” or “pay attention” without providing them with some practical guidelines for how to do so. By offering children systematic practice in techniques that help them pay attention and relax their bodies, we can help them cultivate their budding capacities and facilitate the development of their neural pathways. Teaching these practices to students can increase not only their social and emotional skills, but their resilience: the capacity to not only cope, but thrive in the face of adversity.
Many courageous educators and parents are breaking new ground and teaching children practical ways to calm down and pay attention as a daily part of their school day. A window of opportunity exists right now in society for these kinds of approaches to make their way into homes and schools. It is essential for children to learn new ways to have their spirits uplifted and their inner lives nourished as a normal, natural part of their growing up experience. And as Gandhi prompted, “We have to start with the children.”
Article by Linda Lantieri, Author
Linda Lantieri, MA is director of The Inner Resilience Program and has 40 years of experience as a teacher and administrator in East Harlem and a faculty member at Hunter College. She is co-founder of the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP), widely recognized as an evidenced-based program in social and emotional learning. She may be contacted at The Inner Resilience Program, 40 Exchange Place, Suite 1111, New York, NY 10005; 212/509-0022, ext. 226 or fax: 212/509-1095
Goleman. D. (1998). Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
Goleman, D. (2008). Introduction in Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children by Linda Lantieri. Boulder: Sounds True.
Hunter, J.B. and Schmidt, F.L. (1984). Validity and Utility of Alternative Predictors of Job Performance, Psychological Bulletin 96.
Lantieri, L. (2008). Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques for Cultivating Inner Strength in Children. Boulder: Sounds True.
Schmidt, F. L. and Hunter, J.B. (1981). Employment Testing: Old Theories and New Research Findings. American Psychologist 36.
Sternberg, R. (1996). Successful Intelligence. New York: Simon & Schuster.