Social-Emotional Learning

April 2024
Social-Emotional Learning
When my 3 boys were growing up, I wanted them to excel in academics, however any long car trip quickly reminded me that the skills that I most wanted are what we in the professional world call 'soft skills' or 'emotional intelligence' - to be able to share, listen to others, and self-regulate emotions to name just a few of them.  These skills determine whether we are a good colleague, parent or partner, and are highly sought after by employers and road trip weary parents! 

I would go so far as to say that they are the behaviors that make our society someplace we want to live. I certainly want to live in a community where people treat one another as they would like to be treated (the 'golden rule' according to my mother). 

The label that child development experts use to lump these skills under Social Emotion Learning or SEL, has become a politicized phrase in our increasingly polarized nation - which is ironic since these are the very skills needed to become less polarized. Eight states are currently considering bans on teaching SEL to children. This is concerning as it comes at a time when mental health issues are on the rise in young people.  And spoiler alert these skills help build emotional resilience!

I am proud that Smart Start of Mecklenburg is offering our community a chance to discuss how important these skills are. On April 25th, we will host a conversation with Craig S. Bailey, Ph.D., the Director of Early Childhood Initiatives at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Assistant Professor at the Child Study Center in the Yale School of Medicine, and co-developer of RULER, and local early childhood leaders to collectively remind ourselves of what is at stake.

Research has shown that we are not born knowing these skills - how to recognize what our emotions are telling us, to consider the feelings of others, or have self-control. Just like with reading or writing, we must learn it. What happens when children are taught these skills? They are more successful in life. There are hundreds of studies that support this.  And so, I helped my boys recognize and name their feelings and I sent them to preschool to learn to be in a group of their peers; I arranged playtime with friends where behaviors were tried and the consequences of not sharing, for example, were felt. 

Many years have passed and my boys are growing into men who are valued colleagues at their work, and supportive friends and partners. I am so grateful that they had a community of adults, including teachers, who helped them ride those big feelings and learn to share and listen. And so, I hope that whatever we call it, we can agree that teaching children these skills is a valuable use of time. Because I believe that we all want to live in a community where the golden rule is not the exception, but the rule.