Something most parents and educators all agree on is the desire to nurture young people into being holistically healthy, happy and prepared individuals. We not only want students to gain intellectual intelligence, but to also have healthy bodies, balanced lifestyles, and a sustainable emotional life. Over the last decade or so, researchers, educators and parents have realized and placed greater importance on the emotional intelligence of children. It is important to teach children how to understand and manage their emotions, as researchers now correlate emotional intelligence to future success in life.
“Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn,” says Marc Brackett, a senior research scientist in psychology at Yale University. “They affect our attention and our memory. If you’re very anxious about something, or agitated, how well can you focus on what’s being taught?”
Now emotional learning isn’t all about thinking, it is more about the entire experiential process of learning when we connect the mind, body and spirit. Psychologist David Caruso says, “It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head — it is the unique intersection of both.”
Teaching emotional intelligence can be complex and schools, including CMASAS, are continually discussing, developing, and implementing programs and strategies for advancing emotional learning.
What we often don’t realize however, is that emotional learning happens every day, at home and in online school, and can be encouraged with the simplest strategies and mindsets that most parents and educators are already aware of.
Here are just three steps to nurturing emotional intelligence that CMASAS instructors and personalized education coaches utilize. These are steps and actions that many parents consciously and intentionally do at home with their children, and are behaviors that we enjoy encouraging online school students to adopt.
1. Listen to and acknowledge student’s feelings.
When a student can sense and know that a teacher or parent is fully present and listening, she is much more likely to freely share her feelings. The first step towards learning how to identify, accept and manage emotions, is finding the strength to share them. During the many one-on-one interactions CMASAS instructors have with their students, they cultivate a safe place for the students to share and assure them that their feelings are being heard.
“You seem to be getting frustrated with your algebra course work. I understand that it’s hard to stay confident and work through problems when you’re frustrated with yourself and the work in front of you. Do you want to share with me what frustrates you most? I’m here if you want to talk about those feelings.”
2. Practice and model empathy.>
At first it’s definitely risky business sharing feelings and disclosing problems to another person. When a student has the courage to utilize their safe space and express their emotions, CMASAS instructors immediately practice empathy and acknowledge their student’s feelings. Empathizing with another person assures them that they are entitled to their perspective and helps people to feel acknowledged and seen.
“Oh gosh, you’re right, I bet it is exhausting taking all of these courses, going to soccer practice every day, and volunteering at your church every weekend. I know that it’s so hard to stay motivated when you’re tired. Juggling lots of responsibilities is a tough thing.”
3. Teach problem solving and methods of managing emotions.
Helping students realize that emotions are messages and usually not problems themselves, is what emotional intelligence is all about. Teaching children to acknowledge, accept, feel, work through, tolerate, and then change their emotions will help them to live emotionally balanced lives. Emotional stability can be encouraged in simple ways like breathing through an emotion, brain storming solutions to a problem, taking time away from the difficult situation, or doing a positive activity to create a good emotion. Having a teacher who first listens to a student’s feelings, empathizes with their situation and then helps them problem solve, helps students learn these steps for themselves.
“Ok, so you feel overwhelmed by all of the things that you have to accomplish and are worried that you won’t be able to get them done, which is scary. What if we push this one deadline back and take that test a few days from now, after you’re able to rest and have some fun over the weekend.”
Know that gaining emotional intelligence takes a life time of learning and balancing emotions is something many children and even adults will continue to have to work through. However, practicing these few strategies together and remembering to be intentional about cultivating emotional health, will help us all to live successful and remarkably happy lives.