How important is to you that your child does well academically? Is academic success more important than them being caring and kind to others? Luckily, you don’t have to choose between kindness and academic success. Social emotional development, the process through which we acquire the behaviors that help us navigate our emotions and our relationships, is a great way to not only foster kindness and empathy in your kids but can also help set your kid up for success in the classroom and, eventually, the workplace.
“The thought is that when kids can read others’ emotions better, that frees up more of their brain to focus on academic learning instead of getting bogged down trying to understand someone else’s motives or why another person is acting a certain way,” says Dr. Amy Webb, an educational researcher and author of the parenting blog The Thoughtful Parent. The result? Social emotional skills help kids pay attention, make responsible decisions, and persevere in the face of failure. Let’s take a closer look at how that happens.
When we’re upset, or even sometimes when we’re really happy, it’s easy to make snap decisions based on our mood (or worse, lash out at those around us!). But when we’re able to process our emotions, we gain the time to work through them and think about the situation: we control our emotions, rather than our emotions controlling us. This allows us to approach things from a position of calm and apply our reasoning skills. The same applies to children and how they deal with different situations.
Researchers at the Harvard Business Review have shown that anger poisons decision-making by making us rely on cognitive shortcuts and pointing the finger more often. But with social emotional development, children can become more aware of their emotions and learn self management techniques to help them move past those big feelings. This isn’t about suppressing feelings, though. Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, writes, “Unfortunately, trying not to do something takes a surprising amount of mental bandwidth. And research shows that attempting to minimize or ignore thoughts and emotions only serves to amplify them.” Suppressing emotions can also lead to them leaking out, which can be counterproductive.
Instead, teach your kids to acknowledge their emotions. This will allow them to absorb the emotions, rather than waste energy fighting them, and allow them to focus on other, more important sources of information related to the decision. Dr. Webb says, “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard on this is from the book The Yes Brain. The two authors discuss how we often try to distract our kids or focus on getting them ‘back to happy’ when they are upset by something. They point out that by helping them through an emotionally distressing time, instead of fixing it immediately or distracting them out of it, really helps build emotional intelligence. This is the opposite of helicopter parenting, right? We have to deal with their distressing emotions (and our distressing emotions) instead of just fixing the problem and making it go away.”
The ability to keep at a difficult task despite setbacks is invaluable in the classroom and life after school. But it’s tempting to give up when we’ve failed, especially if we’ve failed again and again. We read The Little Engine That Could to our kids because we recognize the power of persistence in the face of failure. But how does social emotional development play into it?
If you think back to when you’ve failed at a new hobby or sport, you probably remember feeling frustrated and being discouraged, which are not fun feelings. Social emotional development can help kids in the same situation to take a deep breath and try again. By being able to process and control their emotions, instead of being overwhelmed, they can find the calm to try again, and use their clearer heads to apply reason to the attempt–do they need to modify their strategy? It’s hard to think clearly when your head is full of those big feelings!
It can help kids see you handle failure–and to see that success often follows a lot of hard work and effort, rather than just being something that happens, as Parent Tool Kit points out. Talking about the effort and your feelings with your kid can help model perseverance. You can also help them set small but achievable goals to work up to harder challenges, and make sure they’re prepared ahead of time when something might be a challenge, or might take more than one try, or more than one day.
It’s important to let your kid know, though, that while persevering is usually the smart move, sometimes, they have to know went to quit. Similarly, if they’re trying the same thing over and over again without problem solving while they’re failing, they’re unlikely to succeed and need to try a different approach.
Focusing on social emotional development can help kids learn how to pay attention. In a world where attention spans seem to be shrinking, it’s good news to hear that there are ways to develop attention skills! “The circuitry for paying attention is identical for the circuits for managing distressing emotion,” says Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and co-founder of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Both are governed by the prefrontal cortex, which also helps people control themselves and feel empathy for others. “Overall, these skills are intricately linked. Kids’ develop emotions long before they develop the ability and language to describe them and control them.” says Dr. Webb. “Learning to manage emotions builds the skills necessary to inhibit behavior in other areas like not getting distracted, delaying gratification, etc.”
Helping your kids deal with their big emotions enables them to tap that circuitry when they need to pay attention–in class or with friends and family. And this can become a virtuous cycle or a negative feedback loop: exercising attention skills can make you more empathetic, and empathy requires that you pay attention to others, so you build your attention skills at the same time. Goleman recommends mindfulness practices as a way to help build attention skills, as they help kids focus on and pay attention to the moment and how they’re experiencing it.
One of the simplest ways to inculcate mindfulness is by introducing your kid to breathing exercises. Make it a part of their routine and Woobo can help make it seem less like a chore and more like a fun activity! Use the daily routines feature on Woobo or the Parent app to set a mindfulness routine.
At Woobo, it is our mission to make learning fun for children — be it academic or social emotional in nature. Subscribe to our blog if you are interested in knowing about different educational philosophies and how they affect early childhood development.