A Question My Student Asked
3 weeks ago, my student, Wayne asked me, "Teacher, why do we have physical education but there isn't emotional education?"
"Well, maybe there is. What makes you ask this?"
I wasn't too certain if there is actually such education system but I was pretty sure every international school is equipped with at least a counselor. Besides that, the most immediate people he can speak his heart out would definitely be his parents. He was a bit hesitant but I encouraged him that honest communication with his parents is vital and worth it. I dare say that their relationship will always be the priority, not their expectations of him. I have talked with his parents and I know them as parents who want to understand their children. Any expectations can be talked about and they are trustworthy. We didn't go further into this topic as we needed to complete his homework with very near deadlines. Maybe I should have talked with him further.
Towards the weekend, I suddenly received a call from his mum on a day I wasn't supposed to go to his house for tutoring. I was a bit nervous when parents call me during the weekends, thinking what could have gone wrong. His dad wanted to speak to me because Wayne told them he was very stressed out with school and he wanted to see a therapist or counselor.
So, I replied him that there are such roles as counselors in schools who are ready to listen and guide students progressively in their emotional development or people whom Wayne can talk with, if he is comfortable with it. His dad was more concerned that if Wayne's emotional health is at stake. I assured them that Wayne trusts them so he just wanted to talk with them heart to heart about the difficulties he faces in school. He decided to step up to work on his communication, which I applauded him for. Their relationship has advanced further since that day, I'm sure. I texted Wayne to ask if he was okay.
During the following class when I saw Wayne, I intended to follow up on him. He expressed that he did feel much better after he poured his heart out to his parents and they actually listened to him intently. Deep down within, I am glad for parents who take effort to listen and guide their children especially in handling emotional difficulties.
He asked me what's the difference between a counselor and therapist. Honestly I have no idea, haha. So, I asked him to find out and educate me instead.
I asked him if he has ever thought of seeing the school counselor since he or she is available to talk with. Wayne then said, "But they never close the doors and there is no privacy as the other students would just walk in and out." I encouraged him to tell the counselor if he needs a private talk, I think the counselor is willing to close the door. Of course, knowing his parents, if he really wanna see someone out of school to talk to, they would surely let him do it because they are one of the most supportive parents I know and they really love and care for him genuinely.
WHY is there a need for social emotional education?
Wayne's question prompted my curiosity if there is any schools setting social emotional education as part of their curriculum. How can a young child learn to grow in their emotional and social competence from home as well?
I recently learnt a very interesting fact from @denmarkguy that what shame does to the brain is the same as the effect of an excruciating pain. Well, shame is an intense emotion but we may not know how serious it is actually impacting us. We may get away with it first few times but as time prolongs, it may seriously damage our self-esteem.
Perhaps 10 years ago, it would not have occurred to us to think of its importance but with all the recent happenings stemming from a lot of heart issues, I think it should be highlighted in our era. In such a fast pace society, our emotions tend to be overlooked. We move from one thing to another, like ticking a checklist but forget to do closure with our own selves. With also the emerging of social media, we have ways to learn to "numb" ourselves to not feel or to just be alone, denying our nature. Relationships drift apart and we comfort ourselves with "We don't need these people", "I would not allow this or that to hurt me", "I will prove to you I am do well without anyone". What has happened to humanity?
On the other side of the story, we could be masking our true emotions with everything under the sun that we can be involved in: parties, shopping, drugs, games, so on and so forth to avoid facing up with our emotions or people who perhaps threaten us. Confronting emotions and people have become so scary that we reserve ourselves more and more. "Not like they will care or understand me too." This is what I always hear my students say when I encourage them to talk with their parents or guardians.
HOW do we learn about our emotions and some social skills?
Well, I grew up in a education system where there is no such thing. We are mostly thrown into the real "ocean" of emotions and learn to "swim" or "flow along". Yes, we have moral classes in school to teach us what is morally correct or wrong but none addresses emotional or social skills. I guess for many of us in the Asian countries, we learn to cope as we grow. Yes, COPING is the word because I believe not all of us know how to deal with our emotions, let alone say acknowledging or realizing them.
So, technically NO ONE taught us on social emotional skills.
Often than not, whenever we are faced with some difficult emotions, we are told by the society to shove them off, sweep them under the carpet. Words like: "It isn't a big deal", "don't make a fuss out of it" and "Don't act like a pussy" would bury those tender emotions deep underneath.
I remember when I was 19, I got involved in a small care group when I was studying away from home. It was the first time I spoke about some imagination I had as a young child, or rather my coping mechanism with the feeling of perhaps feeling neglected. Having said that, I do not blame my parents for I am their first child and I have 3 more other siblings. I remember faintly there were days I felt neglected or maybe lonely, so I tried to tell myself that I was actually a robot, with emotions wired into me every night after I was asleep (like the drama series Westworld). I was set to feel some emotions, thus that was why I had some emotions. It was for me to experiment on and they are not too "important" since they were preset. I DID NOT know those were real emotions but I coped with them in a "lie" I told myself. By 19, when I poured this out, Jesus restored and healed me of this part of my emotions, after I acknowledged them. However, it takes many years for me to know and realize that love is not taken away from me when another person comes along. I really thank God, that He surfaced this up so I can be made whole again.
This whole flashback makes me think that social emotional education is essential for everyone's development in identifying and managing emotions as well as learning new social skills, though self discovery is a lifelong learning and cannot be contained within a syllabus.
HOW can we encourage ourselves to look at our emotions and look at others'?
Emotions are good indicators though not necessarily have to be the leaders in our actions. We can recognize them and actually deal with them, instead of avoiding them.
Expand the vocabulary of feelings and emotions.
One of the ways to actually expand our vocabulary on feelings and emotions is by introducing different words to ourselves, children or students, even if some can be negative emotions. Nowadays, there are also educational videos on YoutTube to show young children to learn about their emotions and distinguish them in order to verbalize them too. The vocabulary of emotions would greatly help us in understanding the different degree of the emotions even if they comes from the same "theme". For example: being scared, frightened and terrified would indicate different degrees. When we are able to label our emotions in our experiences precisely with distinct vocabularies, we are treating the situations more meticulously. As we regulate our emotions, it enhances and pushes us to grow.
Meltdowns are not totally bad.
We sometimes see children having their meltdowns in supermarkets or grocers and throw that judgmental look. My son has meltdowns in church too, prostrating on the floor, shoving everyone away. While initially I did feel embarrassed and helpless, now I would let him process his emotions and experience them before I offer a hug or a kiss to fulfill the emotional need. Meltdowns are good for adults too because we eventually are "forced" to see our emotions eye-to-eye, though we could have mastered the skills of accumulating everything to a verge.
Write reflections or journal.
I have seen my students writing reflections in their international schools after each project or assignment. They are required to evaluate their learning or working experience to know what they actually feel throughout the whole experience. Of course, perhaps their teachers would read it so they do show some reservations if it is going to be read by a stern teacher. However, sometimes I do get to know how they feel by reading through their reflections, even if they still do it because it is another homework. I remember I keep a journal for myself when I grow up so I myself would look back at what I felt and deal with the emotions. When I felt I could not communicate with my parents, I write letters to them too.
- Take some personality tests to know what we are thinking or feeling.
Although not all personality tests would give an accurate result to the dot, they are sometimes still worth-taking. My husband recently said something really profound: Sometimes we should take the test by ourselves but sometimes we can let those whom we trust "assess" us instead, with much humility and the readiness to learn. That way, we can actually have a better feedback to know ourselves better.
- Learn to express our feelings out to those around us and praise our children when they are able to do it.
There was a case in Malaysia when a 12-year-old killed herself because she could not explain herself to her teacher for not stealing the teacher's mobile phone. She tried so hard, but her teacher could not believe her. As the teacher paid a visit to her home, they later found her dead in her room, leaving behind a letter: "Teacher, I did not steal your phone." I think it is time we choose to believe in the words of the younger generation. When they take a step forward to actually talk and clarify, we should not shove their words and feelings aside. Anytime they express their feelings and show trust towards us (either parents or teachers), we could thank and praise them for being vulnerable with their feelings. It is NOT a norm for them to freely express their feelings. We have to show appreciation when they start to seek help.
WHO should be involved in advocating Social Emotional Education?
Since basic education can start at any age, I firmly believe that parents or guardians are the main people supposed to start valuing the importance of emotions and social skills. If a child tells us that he is scared or angry, we should pay attention to him or her and let him or her know that he or she is heard.
Recently my son would use the word "so scary", it does raise my attention to him more to want to understand what he meant by that, especially at the age of 2, when he has started learning, verbalizing and processing his emotions. When he is sad, he would behave in a certain manner being much more quiet. What I do is I acknowledge his emotions and respond to it, also at the same time delivering more assurance of love, because I figured that is his need at the moment. He has also gotten more sensitive with his "territories" and learnt to protect his things more. I have heard other parents asking me, "Does he need to do that?" I just know I should not shove his feelings aside, but learn them with him because I want to try my best to create a safe zone for him to accountable to whenever he needs, even if my parenting is not perfect and I too can lose it. I agree that we cannot always be there in ALL situations for them but I also believe in being available to attend some of their emotional needs. It is not what others term as "spoiling or over-pampering" the child. I think this is the least a parent can do.
As he ventures into school, I am 100% certain he would face many other more complicated emotions like perhaps being rejected, being placed into positions of responsibility, perhaps being joked about, facing shame, facing the unwillingness of group members to cooperate, etc. I would wish if the local schools can address and promote emotional growth as there would be situations faced in schools which can be out of our hands. Schools today are mostly multicultural hence why the social emotional education is crucial. It is actually an awesome thing for our children to be in touch with diversity. Furthermore, the academic stress in school nowadays has been increasing in order to promote greater academic excellence but sometimes at the expense of the students' mental well-being. Suicide rates have been on the rise and especially highest recorded in South Korea. With the exposure to social media on suicide news, it seems to "give an idea" if we cannot handle something, we just kill ourselves. This is totally not okay. In schools, this could be addressed and be educated about the value of life. Religious institutions which are pro-life such as the church could come in to give talks and arrests the fear. Meditations and ways to calm down can help. We should be saying something about this phenomenon that is getting rampant instead of letting the students deal with it themselves. It can be very subtle and we could have prevented a tragedy. Schools can allow failures with lessons taught in a positive manner, not putting it as if it is the end of a journey. Words of empowerment instead of words of fear or threat can be used more often and intentionally. Teachers can also be a secure place where the students confide in.
Both the parents and teachers can readjust expectations for a child from time to time and varies from individual to individual. Of course, it would require more work and effort but let's just ask ourselves: Do we want a generation with strong denials or a generation who are adequate in social and emotional skills? It would affect us one way or another.
WHAT do we have for Social Emotional Learning or Social Emotional Education currently?
As I researched online and read up, I found that there are actually several programs proactively promoting this kind of learning, such as RULERS, the acronym for Recognizing Emotions in Oneself and Others developed in 2005 by Marc Brackett, David Caruso and Robin Stern of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and SEL which is Social Emotional Learning in short. These two have been prominent growing efforts in America.
RULERS' approach is such:
As a strategy, children are taught to focus on the underlying theme of an emotion rather than getting lost in trying to define it. When an emotion grips you, explains Stern, understanding its thematic contours can help “name it to tame it.” Even though anger is experienced differently by different people, she explains, “the theme underlying anger is the same. It’s injustice or unfairness. The theme that underlies disappointment is an unmet expectation. The theme that underlies frustration is feeling blocked on your way to a goal. Pinning down the theme can “help a person be seen and understood and met where she is,” says Stern. RULER’s lessons are woven into all classes and subjects. So, for example, if “elated’ is the emotional vocabulary word under discussion, a teacher would ask students in an American history class to link “elated” to the voyage of Lewis and Clark. Instruction reaches beyond the classroom, too; kids are prompted to talk with their parents or caregivers about when they last felt elated. Researchers at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence has found RULER schools tend to see less-frequent bullying, lower anxiety and depression, more student leadership and higher grades. So why isn’t emotional education the norm rather than the exception? Source
SEL is also taking a similar strategy:
Research shows that SEL not only improves achievement by an average of 11 percentile points, but it also increases prosocial behaviors (such as kindness, sharing, and empathy), improves student attitudes toward school, and reduces depression and stress among students (Durlak et al., 2011). Effective social and emotional learning programming involves coordinated classroom, schoolwide, family, and community practices that help students develop 5 skills: self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationship skill, and responsible decision-making. The short- and long-term benefits of SEL would results in students being more successful in school and daily life when they know and can manage themselves, understand the perspectives of others and relate effectively with them and make sound choices about personal and social decisions. Source
I am deeply impressed by the strategies and approaches these two programs are doing. Though I do not know exactly how they assimilate them into the classroom setting and would there be assessments and all, I do support such initiatives that value social emotional intelligence. As the world is turning colder towards each other, we can still learn the wide spectrum of emotions to both ends: both positive and negative ones. We learn to embrace our natural selves once again. It also empowers us to know we need not be in the same state but we can progress from there with healthy help and assistance.
With Social Emotional Education, it would achieve the following:
It would promote self-awareness and self-management.
Though we would not be able to understand ourselves 100% accurately (not even psychiatrists or psychologists can do that), we would at least be able to identify our emotions, life values, strengths and weaknesses in a healthy manner and that is paramount in our growth as an individual and even as part of a society. We would be able to know that our actions are tied closely with our emotions and thoughts. With that, we can manage ourselves better, controlling what we can and accepting what we cannot. Stress management, delayed gratification and even failures would be processed and we can persevere through challenges better. It would greatly build our characters as well.
It extends ourselves to others around us.
Vulnerability is the word when we "open up" ourselves to others. Sometimes when we are depressed, we think the easiest way is just to keep everything in, sweep things under the carpet, but that is not the case. It takes so much courage and willingness to try to be vulnerable. I want to hereby encourage you that vulnerability is worth trying even if it does not succeed all the time and we can still get shunned off. You and I have something to offer and we can learn to trust people around us. It is so miserable to live on an island. Sometimes, some people feel it is way comfortable talking to a stranger online (through Steemit) than to familiar people. I think that is fine if it serves as an effective outlet for you.
- It enhances our relational skills.
Relational skills are learnt. None of us are born with the ability to relate immediately after we are born, not even the so-called "extroverts". We tend to mirror those who are closest to us but at the same time develop our own social and emotional make-up. There would be times we enjoy solitude and we can know how to tell others off in an honorable way. On the other hand, there would be times, we want to get to know others more and enjoy ourselves in a community or group of friends. Both are equally healthy. Learn to verbalize when we feel uncomfortable and not as ease, which is perfectly okay. It acknowledges our emotions and we can be powerful too. Group or team work usually would put us in the spot to relate, whether we like it or not.
- It creates successful and competent leaders for the society.
Leaders with high emotional intelligence and capacity are likely to be successful in careers and in the society. This is definitely because setbacks are not able to pull them down and obstruct them from reaching their goals. This is not done in a "self-effort to deny or fight off negative emotions" but in a powerful manner to know how to manage oneself. Because social emotion education also encourages empathy and many other positive emotions, a leader can put himself better in others' shoes, make more ethical decisions and also consider more aspects. It gives a better all-rounder view to the leader in decision making.
- It reduces crimes.
I have heard so many news about random gunfire in schools that break my heart. More often than not, it usually comes down to the gunmen who have emotional issues, such as anger and injustice, depression and being bullied, abandonment and loneliness. They have not learnt to handle the emotions and took it out on some innocent people as well. When we cannot manage ourselves, we may try to suppress it within but there will come a day, when things cannot be held together anymore, the outcome can be very disastrous. 20 school shootings had occured in just a span of 16 weeks into 2018. I went through the list here and I could not help but feel my heart wrenched.
Offenders with mental health problems tend to engage in more deviant types of criminal acts than those without such problems. Source
At times, our actions can be sprung forth from an undealt emotion which would cause an impact to the society we are in. When our emotional and mental health are addressed, there could be lesser criminal rates in the country.
Back to Wayne...
Wayne has started to experience some frustrations and emotions working with his group members in school. What I can tell him is:
- He is not too young to understand and it is okay to feel emotions as well as to manage them.
- It is normal to feel frustrations and disappointments.
- It's fine to find someone to talk about his feelings, emotions, and socializing problems.
- He will get better at managing himself and challenges that come his way.
- It is always worthwhile to communicate even when it may be uncomfortable.
My Conclusion of the Matter
During my primary school days, I was top in all classes and won many competitions. However, I got jeered by my peers a lot and they deemed me proud. During those years, I did not know how to interact with them at all, had very few friends and had many embarrassing moments. I did not know I could talk with my parents. I really was clueless on how to handle the emotional stress and the lack of the sense of belonging. Thank God, I transferred school to a smaller school and learnt my social skills all over again. All these were kept within me until Jesus came in and changed my life when love and acceptance needs are fulfilled.
Emotional and social intelligence is definitely not lesser than academic achievements. I am actually very glad that SEL is implemented in some schools in America now and expect it to spread its influence worldwide. A child's success is definitely not determined by the qualification certificates he or she holds, but also our emotional and social competence to not be swallowed up by this "rat race" we are in.
In memorial of a music legend- Avicii, this is a great song from him. From the lyrics of Wake Me Up, we could actually tell he had unresolved emotional issues especially anxiety and perhaps emptiness in his life too.
"They tell me I'm too young to understand
They say I'm caught up in a dream
Well life will pass me by if I don't open up my eyes
Well that's fine by me"
I read the statement released by his family too:
Our beloved Tim was a seeker, a fragile artistic soul searching for answers to existential questions.
An over-achieving perfectionist who traveled and worked hard at a pace that led to extreme stress.
When he stopped touring, he wanted to find a balance in life to be happy and be able to do what he loved most – music.
He really struggled with thoughts about Meaning, Life, Happiness.
He could not go on any longer.
He wanted to find peace.
Tim was not made for the business machine he found himself in; he was a sensitive guy who loved his fans but shunned the spotlight.
Tim, you will forever be loved and sadly missed.
The person you were and your music will keep your memory alive.
The thing about humans is we have severe emotional needs for love, peace, joy, fulfillment etc whether we admit or not. Any part of these not filled, it may lead us to a life without purpose.
For some of you who are struggling, I know it is scary to reach out, if you have been shunned off many times before. But, I plead with you to still reach out another time. For those of you who have friends saying they want to kill themselves every few days, I understand it can be overwhelming because I have friends like that too. Perhaps we can just access grace and show grace another round. If we do feel we cannot take the emotional manipulation whatsoever anymore, communicate our part out in an honorable manner because these lives are delicate. Yes we are talking about LIVES here.
I know depression, anxiety and suicide are not easy to handle, none of emotional and heart issue is. Perhaps even Social Emotional Education also cannot fully prevent, but I hope at least it can deliver the point that our emotions are not to be ignored. At least we are educated and not left alone to figure out unfamiliar emotions. My role as a part-time tutor would be probably imparting some social emotional education through informal chats. We talk about suicides, bully and disappointments.
As almost-perfect as Wayne's parents may be, it surely still needs a collaboration between both parents and schools to each play our own role, for the sake of our future generation. Even for us, Steemit is a great education platform in tackling some social emotional inadequacies too by engaging with others as well as be benefited by all the great articles spreading positivity and encouragements. I have been learning so much from some of these great authors on this aspect such as @iamjadeline, @dedicatedguy, @denmarkguy, @roselifecoach, @metzli and many others (do check them out!). Social emotional learning is a lifelong practice, indeed as we encounter different realities at different stages of life too. Let's love ourselves enough to care about our social emotional health!
List of References:
Thank you for taking your time to read about my long opinion on social and emotional education. What do you think about implementing this learning into our current education system? Is emotional and social education as important as academics excellence? Do share with me your thoughts.
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