The Social & Emotional Needs of Children

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Who does not want a child to have success with academic achievement, positive behavior, and healthier life choices? On the surface, self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills are indeed essential for success in school, work, and life. Too often good ideas and solutions get lost in poor implementation, and teachers often are not trained specifically to address some of the issue’s children face.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) has become arguably one of the hottest topics in education and the most controversial to critics. Christina Cipriano, the director of research at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a research scientist at the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, identifies five competencies children should master: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. This is something she told EdSurge that has been around for decades. Cipriano says: “At the end of the day, we’re talking about teaching people how to be better citizens and more positive contributors to their society.”

As early as 2014, educator Larry Ferlazzo was sounding the alarm in his editorial about how social and emotional learning (SEL) — and its ancestor, character education — was being unduly influenced by some in the education world. Few people would disagree. Those who he identified as manipulating SEL cross a wide variety of ideologies. Ferlazzo states: “Social Emotional Learning has an important place in teaching and in learning. It’s also critical to remember that it has to be kept in its appropriate place.” And the appropriate place is where the debate begins and ends.

Years ago, I remember a discussion with some fellow policy wonks on reading. The consensus was some children will fall through the cracks and never learn to read which was something I could not accept. I blurted out: “You care more about Johnny feeling good about himself, instead of whether he can read or write.”

Don’t get me wrong, I do want children to have self-esteem and self-respect, but I also think it is important that we do not lose focus on academic goals. Which brings me back to the major point: teachers are often not trained specifically to address some of the issue’s children face. To be certain, educators innately encourage healthy social and emotional development of our children. For any program to be successful, there must be complete transparency and community support before implementing any formal SEL program. The creation of this type of climate will support social and emotional learning to nurture emotionally intelligent children.

Tina Olesen, a school teacher in British Columbia wrote:

The way to help the child develop real self-control is tried and true: a caring adult patiently and unflaggingly commits to the moral training of that child. Directing, warning, correcting and disciplining day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, the adult encourages the child to do what is right, whether or not it feels good. When a child consistently chooses to act in accordance with what is right, he develops moral character. As he develops moral character, he becomes increasingly capable of governing himself and applying himself to his studies, and he develops the self-control required for learning. This can be a long and arduous process that requires self-sacrifice and much patience on the part of a parent or teacher.

The truth is that we have to address so many issues in public education that we forget that parents have the most important role in the moral formation of their own children. Teachers and families should be partners in helping children succeed. Nevertheless, educators are forced to fill a gap in which they may lack appropriate training, and which assessment of success or failure is not readily available.

Quoting Henri-Frédéric Amiel, Oleson added, “The test of every religious, political or educational system is the man which it forms. If a system injures the intelligence, it is bad. If it injures the character, it is vicious. If it injures the conscience, it is criminal.” Whatever your opinion is on this issue, the objective of improved academic achievement, positive behavior, and healthier life choices is a worthy goal to pursue, at home, school, and in the community.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.