Three boys and one girl is smiling playing with toys

Remember, School is More Than Grades

It often looks like a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees.

School curricula typically favor teaching kids ‘applied knowledge.’  This is the type of knowledge that can easily be tested and graded.  But this tunnel approach often backfires later when graduates enter the workforce.  According to the recruiting firm THE PRINCIPLE GROUP, such ‘soft skills’ as effective problem solving, time management  and collaboration – skills that are given less of a priority in their curricula –  are among the top eight skills that hiring managers value in 2022.

Teachable Skills  

The non-academic ingredients for success are all teachable life skills that Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum provides.  Otherwise known as EQ or Emotional Intelligence, these skills are measurable and deemed critical for creating a successful workforce, notes the National Network of Business and Industry Associations. Still just a small fraction of schools, less than 30%, include comprehensive SEL training in their curriculum.

Increasing the number of schools implementing comprehensive SEL by just one percent means approximately 400,000 more kids gaining critical skills for success in school, work, relationships, and life.

EQuip Our Kids! to the Rescue

EQuip Our Kids!,  a national nonprofit campaign, has taken the lead in raising awareness about addressing this vacuum.  We recognize that parents and businesses can be important partners in advocating for the adoption of SEL curriculum which this nonprofit aims to include in every preK – 12 classroom by 2030.

To help jump start those conversations with key school contacts, EQuip Our Kids! is now offering a free downloadable school engagement kit for parents, loaded with conversation starters and all the talking points needed to start those discussions that can influence decision-makers at the adminstration as well as teacher level to consider the critical benefits of including SEL training into their total curriculum. 

Parents can also help their children continue to  hone these SEL skills at home by taking advantage of EQuip Our Kids! weekly parenting tips

Patricia Kutza is a partner (with Connie Payne) in DGMS & Co. Their company offers books and workshops based on social and emotional learning principles to schools, labor workforce units and senior living communities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Summer Reading to Help Sharpen Your Emotional Intelligence Skills

Summer’s extended daytime hours offer a welcome respite for parents – offering them time to pause and refuel their brain cells with a good book, a hammock and a tall drink.  Still, the most fanciful of topics rarely diverts their minds from thinking about their kids’ welfare.  Here are some page turners that can keep them reading in the right direction:

Emotional Intelligence Toolkit

This free help guide from EquipOurKids.org is chock full of tips and tools for managing stress, identifying emotional triggers, improving relationships, and gaining perspectives on how to bridge the roles of parent, wife, lover and friend. its instant stress relief suggestions and multi-level meditations (beginning, intermediate and advanced) are conveniently timed for those who can only spend 16 minutes up to a full 30 minute immersion.  

Character Lab

How do parents help their kids develop the mettle to face life’s challenges?  And the gratitude to appreciate the blessings that come their way? These questions are addressed in this free resource created by a group of scientists led by MacArthur Fellow Angela Duckworth, who share their action-based research with a series of tips and playbooks that focus on helping kids learn self-control and good judgement and decision-making.

The Don’t Get Me Started! Toolkit – Strategies for a Culturally-Challenged World

Modeling emotional intelligence is one of the most effective ways parents can illustrate this important skill.  This book offers many scenarios where readers are faced with decisions that test their level of  EQ in situations that explore the rapidly-changing mores of gender identity, cultural and generational differences and technological changes.  Authors Connie Payne and Patricia Kutza also offer a series of Workbooks where kids at the primary and secondary school level can test their EQ skills.

52 Essential Conversations

This is a game-based resource that covers a wide range of social-emotional learning topics.  Implicit bias, inclusion, equity, social and self-awareness and building healthy relationships are some of the key topics covered.

Parenting Without Power Struggles

Family therapist Susan Stiffelman shares her enlightened strategies that make it possible to think differently about that ‘third rail’ – power struggles – that so often can derail healthy family relationships.  And resolve them smartly – while staying cool, calm and connected.


Patricia Kutza is a partner (with Connie Payne) in DGMS & Co. Their company offers books and workshops based on social and emotional learning principles to schools, labor workforce units and senior living communities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

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How ‘Social and Emotional Learning’ Became the Newest Battleground

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a longstanding educational concept aimed at teaching children skills like managing stress, treating others with respect and empathy, working cooperatively, and recognizing emotions.

 

But even as some educators have turned to social-emotional learning as a tool to help students navigate the loss and disruption brought about by the pandemic, conservative groups and lawmakers who have sought to restrict how race and gender are discussed in school have also turned their attention to SEL, arguing that it too can be a vector for discussions about identity and equity.

Read the full article

 

 

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Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report

In his December 2021 report, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a new Advisory to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis. This important report has recommendations for individuals, families, employers, and others to improve the mental health of children, adolescents and young adults.

“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

Murthy continued, “The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating. The future wellbeing of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation. Especially in this moment, as we work to protect the health of Americans in the face of a new variant, we also need to focus on how we can emerge stronger on the other side. This advisory shows us how we can all work together to step up for our children during this dual crisis.”

The report is a call to action for various groups. Here are some key takeaways that highlight social-emotional learning as part of the solution.

We Can Take Action

Support the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings. This includes creating positive, safe, and affirming educational environments and expanding programming that promotes healthy development–social and emotional learning being a prime example. Also, as a society we need to provide a continuum of supports to meet the social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs of children and youth. To achieve this, we must also expand and support the early childhood and education workforce.

What Young People Can Do 

Since many of the challenges young people face are outside of their control, we need a whole-of-society effort to support children’s mental health and wellbeing from birth to adulthood. That said, below are important steps children and young people themselves can take to protect, improve, and advocate for their mental health and that of their family, friends, and neighbors: 

  • Remember that mental health challenges are real, common, and treatable.
  • Ask for help.
  • Invest in healthy relationships.
  • Find ways to serve.
  • Learn and practice techniques to manage stress and other difficult emotions.
  • Take care of your body and mind.
  • Be intentional about your use of social media, video games, and other technologies.
  • Be a source of support for others.

What Family Members and Caregivers Can Do

Families and caregivers play a critical role in providing the safe, stable, and nurturing environments and relationships young people need to thrive. Below are recommendations for how families and caregivers can engage with kids during this youth mental health crisis, helping them become more resilient and addressing emerging: 

  • Be the best role model you can be for young people by taking care of your own mental and physical health. 
  • Help children and youth develop strong, safe, and stable relationships with you and other supportive adults. 
  • Encourage children and youth to build healthy social relationships with peers. 
  • Do your best to provide children and youth with a supportive, stable, and predictable home and neighborhood environment. 
  • Try to minimize negative influences and behaviors in young people’s lives. 
  • Ensure children and youth have regular check-ups with a pediatrician, family doctor, or other health care professional. 
  • Look out for warning signs of distress, and seek help when needed. 
  • Minimize children’s access to means of self-harm, including firearms and prescription medications. 
  • Be attentive to how children and youth spend time online. Digital technology can help young people connect with friends and family, learn about current events, express themselves, and access telehealth and other resources.
  • Be a voice for mental health in your community.

What Employers Can Do

Employers can play an outsized role in supporting the mental health of children and young people. They can directly help younger employees, such as high school students working part-time jobs or young adults starting out in the labor force after high school or college. For example, employers can provide affordable health insurance that covers mental health needs. Employers can also support children and youth indirectly. Below are some recommendations for how employers can support the mental health of young people:

  • Provide access to comprehensive, affordable, and age-appropriate mental health care for all employees and their families, including dependent children. 
  • Implement policies that address underlying drivers of employee mental health challenges, including both home and workplace stressors. Employers should: Offer paid family leave and sick leave where feasible. 
  • Create a workplace culture that affirms the importance of the mental health and wellbeing of all employees and their families.
  • Regularly assess employees’ sense of wellbeing within the workplace.

Want to do more in response to the youth mental health crisis? Find out how.

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Five Benefits of an Education that is More Than Grades

In education today, academic and social-emotional issues are often considered separate. Anything that doesn’t directly relate to students’ academic performance must be dealt with outside the classroom. 

Barely 25% of schools offer a comprehensive approach to Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) along with academic learning. This even though applied knowledge accounts for just a quarter of the skills employers desire. The other three quarters? Well, those are Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills that are taught through SEL curriculum.

SEL provides an education in emotional life skills that is more than just grades. It can benefit individuals, societies, and even nations on a larger scale. Here are just five of SEL’s many benefits:

SEL Lowers the Mental Health Crisis Among Students

According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, nearly three in 10 parents (29%) say their child is “already experiencing harm” to their emotional or mental health because of social distancing and closures, lack of routines, and other recent and past traumatic stressors. Untreated or undiagnosed mental health conditions are likely to affect a student’s emotional wellness and their ability to learn, develop, and grow.

SEL can equip students with the emotional life skills and competencies they need. It helps kids to develop resilience and effectively manage their behavior, emotions, and relationships with others. An important focus of a social-emotional learning curriculum is the promotion of positive development through fostering social skills. Positive social skills give children feasible tools to regulate their emotions and make good choices about their behavior. 

Research indicates that focusing on social-emotional needs can help reduce anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, depression, and impulsive behavior in kids. This concentration can also help to increase test scores, attendance, and prosocial behaviors such as kindness, personal awareness, and empathy. Teaching kids coping skills, mindfulness, effective communication skills, and self-regulation gives them the resources needed to address various social, emotional, and mental health challenges that hinder learning.

SEL Enhances Personal Career Success

In order for students to achieve success in school, career, and life, children must be taught social and emotional skills—just as they learn reading, math, and science—through instruction and practice. 

Research shows the skills taught in SEL curricula have wide-ranging benefits that affect children’s success in school, career, and life. For instance, kindergarteners with stronger social and emotional skills are more likely to graduate from high school and college and have stable, full-time employment and are less likely to commit crimes, be on public assistance, and have drug, alcohol, and mental health problems.

SEL Benefits Business and the Economy

SEL and employability skills benefit businesses by helping provide qualified job candidates who thrive in their positions. The Harvard Business Review reports that 90 percent of career success comes from emotional intelligence, not academic intelligence. Google found that their most successful teams were ones with psychological safety, not geniuses. 

Self-motivation, time management, communication, problem-solving, and relationship building—some common aspects of SEL—are the types of skills employers often look for. Employers want to hire and retain employees who have the ability to think critically and work effectively with others. Employability skills matter and school-based SEL programs are a way to begin building them. If individuals, businesses, institutions and policy makers declare a full-fledged support for SEL, it will not only benefit the overall economy but even pay for itself many times over.

SEL Reduces School Violence

Violence in schools is a complex societal issue and must be addressed in comprehensive ways. Schools need to implement universal approaches to promote physical and psychological safety. Research has found that social-emotional skills can lead to safer schools. 

A landmark meta-analysis examined 213 studies of K–12 school-based SEL programs and found that students in schools that implemented such programs had significant improvements in social-emotional skills (such as identifying emotions, perspective taking, and conflict resolution) and fewer conduct problems. These schools also reported less aggression and delinquent acts, showing a direct link between SEL and safer schools.

Parents Prefer SEL

There has been a positive change over the past couple of years. Recent research indicates that more than 80% of parents support education that grows their child’s emotional life skills. Parents believe working through social-emotional issues productively within a specific curriculum has many positive outcomes for students. They regard education to be more than just academics, to be more than grades.

SEL guarantees many more benefits. What’s needed now is for policy makers and the education system to give SEL the priority required to support an education that is more than grades and to ensure the success of an emotionally and socially equipped U.S.

Written by Devyani Nagbhirey

Social Media

How Parents Can Use SEL to Help Kids Navigate Social Media

Social media use has become increasingly common among children. This is inevitable, as more than half of kids in the country now own a smartphone by the age of 11. And much of the activity that they do on them involve social media networks, from TikTok to Twitter. Because of this trend, it pays not only to monitor your kids’ social media use but also to guide them in navigating these platforms. Below, you can find ways of doing so, using what is called Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

What is SEL?

SEL is simply the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, and attitude that can help people understand and better manage their emotions. With improved socioemotional intelligence, your children will be able to make responsible decisions, create meaningful relationships, and apply empathy in every action they take. This is important for a platform like social media, where there’s so much information available and so many people to interact with.

How to use SEL to help your kids navigate social media

Typically, SEL is embedded in the school curriculum. But as this centers primarily on the development of children, it can be applied in any aspect of their life, such as their social media use. For example, set aside time to talk about issues your children might have encountered online. Ask them about how they felt about these issues. As you allow them to be more open with their emotions, you encourage self-awareness. Consequently, they will learn to manage their emotions, including controlling their impulses.

Once they learn that their emotions are valid, they will be more considerate of other’s feelings, too. Those skills will be helpful as you teach them how to respect people online. After all, it’s not enough to simply tell them that they should not bully anyone without making them understand why. Let your kids place themselves in the shoes of those bullied, and make them realize that their actions, even though virtual, have consequences in the real world.

Also, if you find out that your kids are being peer pressured into following social media trends they’re not comfortable with, instill in them the ability to say no. Cultivate and support their skills and interests outside of the digital scape, like reading or cooking, so that they learn to detach from the online world, become confident in themselves, and develop holistically. Exposing them to a life beyond the screen will also help show them that their worth isn’t dependent on their social media presence alone.

What to do if social media gets too much for your kids

If your child seems to be going through drastic mood changes while using social media, for instance, or if they cannot put down their devices anymore, it might be a sign that you need intervention.

And if you find out that they’re the target of cyberbullying, they’re addicted to social media, or are experiencing other negative symptoms that are too much for you to handle, it’s important to understand that you can get help from mental healthcare professionals. Therapists and counselors are trained under rigorous human development and family studies programs that help them understand the relationships and experiences that shape children and their families.

Such programs allow students to pursue developmental tracks like youth development as well, producing professionals that are knowledgeable in proactive parenting strategies and healthy family patterns. This means that they’ll be fully equipped to help you both tweak your SEL approach in a way that will help you and your child navigate social media together.

If you don’t think traditional counseling is suitable for your child, there is such a thing called “art therapy.” Modern art therapists that have taken a masters in psychology, in particular, can be a great help for children who find it difficult to express themselves through words. They can even offer opportunities for you to bond with your kids through art. Ultimately, when it comes to seeking professional help, there are many avenues you can explore, so take the time to find one that you feel works best for your family.

In this age, it is important to raise well-rounded digital natives. To this end, focus not only on developing your children’s social and emotional intelligence but also on setting a good example for them, both online and in the real world.

Specially written for EquipOurKids.org
By: Rhyslinn Johannah

Photo by Charlotte May from Pexels

Social-Emotional Learning Boosts STEM Education. Here’s How.

Back in 2011, the US Chamber of Commerce released a report called The Case for Being Bold. This report famously led to a decade-long effort to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in K-12 education and a huge investment of resources from governments and corporations:

  • More than $1 billion dollars spent over the next decade funding STEM education and awareness.
  • Business-led campaigns to lead and amplify the effort to support STEM education.
  • Vital Signs metrics track and evaluate students’ academic performance in STEM subjects.
  • The STEM is Cool! campaign highlighted innovative and exciting work in STEM jobs
  • “STEM salons” popped up across the country, selling STEM-centric courses, after school programs and even birthday parties for kids K-12 ages.

However, despite this massive investment of resources, the effort to promote STEM education has fallen short in some key areas.

While the candidate pool for technical jobs increased, overall diversity of people working STEM jobs still lags behind other fields. Moreover, overall scores in math, science and technology in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as “the nation’s report card”) haven’t improved over the last 10 years.

Essentially, people and organizations directly involved in STEM activities benefited from this billion-dollar investment, but everyone else saw little profit.

SEL: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Social-emotional learning, or SEL for short, is the process of teaching people skills to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, develop empathy, build healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions.

SEL also teaches important life skills such as how to analyze and solve problems, set achievable goals, and embracing challenges as part of growing and learning.

Practically speaking, incorporating SEL into a curriculum has been shown to help improve students’ overall academic performance. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL):

  • 83% of students made academic gains when participating in an academic program with an SEL component.
  • Students improved by an average of 11% on standardized tests after participating in an SEL program.
  • Students increased their GPA by an average of 11% when participating in an SEL program.
  • SEL programs help improve student behaviors and attitudes while preventing substance abuse.

SEL Boosts Skills Important to STEM Success

ntegrating social-emotional learning with STEM education enhances the academic program by teaching five key competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making skills.

Self awareness

Self awareness is the ability of a person to identify their emotions and the impact of those feelings on their behavior.

Self management

Self management is the ability to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors in different situations. This skill is critical to setting and achieving goals, something that is a real challenge for students as well as adults.

The fact is, in STEM education students will inevitably face numerous challenges and failures. Science is, after all, an iterative process. So strong self management is required to deal with and overcome the feelings of frustration and inadequacy that sometimes come with STEM education.

SEL teaches how to learn from past failures and incorporate those insights into future efforts.

Combining SEL with STEM education allows students to persevere and “fail forward” until they reach their ultimate goal.

Social awareness

Social awareness is understanding social norms and empathizing with people from different backgrounds. Strong social awareness results in students who are more creative and able to incorporate alternate viewpoints to solve problems and overcome challenges.

Social awareness not only makes STEM education more effective through improved teamwork, the ability to empathise and see things from another’s point of view is the most important skill in innovation, invention and design.

Take, for example, the market-leading personal finance tool Quicken, created by Intuit, Inc.

Quicken was created by Intuit founder Scott Cook in the early 1980s after his wife complained about struggling to balance their checkbook and keep their bills organized. Cook realized a product centered around simplifying personal finance would help not only his own family, but others as well.

Quicken’s success, driven by Scott Cook’s ability to empathize with challenges faced by other people, helped establish Intuit as one of the most successful companies in the world.

A second example is a product called The Embrace Care.

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Image from Embrace Innovations

The Care was created by a team of Stanford postgraduate students challenged to invent a new incubator for use in developing countries. However, after meeting with mothers living in remote areas without easy access to hospitals, the team realized that a traditional incubator wouldn’t be practical for these mothers and babies.

The team’s ability to take on the perspective of people with a far, far different background than theirs allowed them to reframe the challenge from “invent an incubator” to “help mothers keep babies warm in far-flung locations without access to hospitals or electricity.”

Without that shift in perspective, the team may have simply created a traditional incubator that cost less, had a rechargeable battery or was more portable. It was their empathy that resulted in the inspiration to design a product that has helped to save thousands of lives.

Relationship skills

SEL teaches critical relationships skills that allow students to build and maintain healthy relationships with a diverse range of people.

STEM activities, projects and challenges usually take place in groups or in a team environment. And nearly all jobs in the STEM field rely heavily on collaboration and teamwork. Strong relationship skills and the ability to listen to multiple different perspectives are an absolute must for any success in a STEM education program.

Decision-making skills

Responsible decision-making relies on the ability to understand and anticipate the consequences of actions and make choices based on social norms as well as the well-being of others.

Social-emotional learning teaches responsible decision-making skills as well as focusing on promoting curiosity, open-mindedness and critical thinking skills.

Success in a STEM setting, either academic or in a related job, relies heavily on a person’s ability to analyze data to make a judgement, identify solutions to a problem, and anticipate the impact of an action. Even “small” decision-making skills, like time management and focus, are key to performing well in STEM subjects and challenges.

Next Steps: Time to Invest in SEL

The benefits of pairing STEM education with social-emotional learning is clear and the steps needed to helping today’s students reach their full potential is evident. The time is now to invest in SEL researchers, publishers, services and program providers just as we did for STEM education in 2011.

Learn how you can help bring social-emotional learning to your community today.

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It’s Time to Invest in SEL like STEM

Back in 2011, the US Chamber of Commerce released a report called The Case for Being Bold. This report famously laid out the need for not just increased investment in STEM education, but also the need for the business community to take a leadership role in the movement (as opposed to merely providing resources and support).

What happened next was a veritable decade-long explosion in STEM education:

  • Corporations spent more than $1 billion dollars over the next decade funding STEM education and awareness.
  • The business-led Change the Equation launched several campaigns to lead and amplify the effort to support STEM education.
  • Change the Equation created the Vital Signs benchmark to track and evaluate students’ performance in STEM subjects.
  • The STEM is Cool! campaign highlighted innovative and exciting work in STEM-related jobs
  • Privately-owned, for-profit “STEM salons” popped up across the country, selling STEM-centric courses, after school programs and even birthday parties for K-12 students.
social-emotional learning

The business community’s dedicated campaign helped lead to a marked increase in awareness of STEM, the importance of STEM education and opportunities in related fields.

So this brings us to the next big opportunity in education: social-emotional learning and emotional intelligence.

Teaching Happiness: EQ and SEL

Emotional intelligence, or “EQ” for short, is defined as a person’s ability to be aware of, control and express their emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”.

Social-emotional learning, better known as “SEL”, is the process of learning the knowledge and skills that allow people to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, build supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

social-emotional learning chart

Image courtesy of casel.org

SEL focuses on teaching five “key competencies” identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning:

  • Self-awareness: Being able to recognize emotions and their impact on behavior
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors in different situations.
  • Social awareness: Understanding social norms for behavior, the ability to empathize with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and recognition of where there are sources of support.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships with a diverse range of people. These skills also include the capability to not take others’ behavior personally as well as engage in “active listening”.
  • Responsible decision-making: Being able to realistically evaluate the consequences of actions and make decisions based on social and ethical norms and the well-being of others and themselves.

SEL also helps kids learn how to analyze and solve problems, set goals and embrace challenges and setbacks as part of the growth process.

In other words, social-emotional learning equips kids with skills they can use to practice happiness throughout their lives.

The Need for Social-Emotional Learning

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But why do we need to promote SEL and emotional intelligence?

The simple fact is that the overall mental health of Americans leaves a lot to be desired and kids today are exhibiting frighteningly high levels of negative behaviors.

The need for improved emotional intelligence is simply undeniable:

  • Violence: In 2015, 22% of students reported bullying and 10 million children experienced domestic violence. The US suffers the highest rates of murder and violent assault among developed countries.
  • Mental health: In 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents experienced at least one major depressive episode. That represents 12.5% of kids aged 10 to 17 years old, and rates of reported depression and anxiety are increasing. And half of surveyed parents have described their kids as “over stressed” since the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
  • Suicide: Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24 years old, and suicide rates have been increasing each year over the last decade. And the COVID-19 pandemic increased the rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts even higher.
  • Academic performance: In 2013, 65% of all US fourth graders tested as “below proficient” in literacy, with 80% of low income students falling into that category. After years of intense focus on reading, those results remained largely flat as students suffer high rates of disengagement and lack motivation.
  • Criminalized behavior: Though popular, “zero tolerance” rules have served mostly to fill a “school-to-prison” pipeline as schools suspend, expel or prosecute students for relatively minor offenses – 2 million students are incarcerated each year. Communities of color bear the brunt of these outcomes.
  • Chronic stress: The chronic stress and trauma growing up in poverty or near-poverty takes a major toll on the academic climate and performance of more than 20 million kids each year.

The fact is, many kids today are unhappy. And these children carry this experience into adulthood.

Today’s adults report high levels of worker disengagement, on-the-job bullying and harassment, loneliness, domestic violence and lack of civic engagement.

Simply put, we are not teaching kids the skills vital to becoming happy, well-adjusted adults.

Practical benefits of social-emotional learning

young people on laptops

Investing in SEL to boost emotional intelligence brings benefits that  support society. That much is clear. This investment pays practical returns on investment to corporations and businesses:

It’s Time to Invest in SEL Like STEM

The need to boost investment in social-emotional learning is apparent and business leaders, much like they were with STEM education a decade ago, are in prime position to provide the necessary resources and support.

A broad ecosystem of SEL researchers, publishers, technology companies and service providers already exists. What they lack is a strong base of demand for their services.

Corporate demand and investment will drive schools to adopt comprehensive SEL programs, just as business demand and dollars drove them to adopt a comprehensive STEM curriculum.

And the best part is that we won’t need to wait 10 years to start seeing returns on this investment. High school students with just one year’s experiencing social-emotional learning will be better prepared to enter the labor force than workers without any SEL experience.

Just like with STEM education in 2011, the infrastructure for improving EQ through social-emotional learning is there. What’s needed now is the support from the business community that will lead schools to adopt SEL education at all levels.

Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

Happiness is a Skill Kids Can Learn & Practice

A parent’s job is to teach their kids life skills. Skills such as self care, how to read and write, what to do in an emergency, tying their shoes or how to play an instrument or sport. 

But can parents also teach their kids happiness?

Many people think of happiness as a matter of innate personality traits (such as temperament, cheerfulness and outlook) and life circumstances. Basically, if you have a positive attitude and you catch a couple of lucky breaks in life you’ll be happy. Conversely, if you go through a series of external challenges and are more of a “glass half empty” person, you’ll be miserable. 

But, as it turns out, happiness comes down to a set of skills you can teach to your kids and help them practice until they become routine habits.

Why Teach Happiness

In short, the happier we are, the more successful we become.

Research has long shown that happy people are more successful across a multitude of life domains:

Happy people are also better able to multitask and endure boredom and are more creative, trusting and helpful.Teaching happiness to kids has protected students against the decline in self satisfaction, satisfaction with friends and positive emotions that are typically reported by kids starting their middle school years.

In other words, teaching happiness is one of the best things you can do to set your kids up for success in both the short and long term.

The RULER Framework for Teaching Happiness

As you can likely tell, “RULER” is an acronym for five skills that can be taught and practiced to increase happiness:

  • Recognizing emotions: How am I feeling right now? Physical cues such as posture, energy levels, breathing and heart rate, can help children identify what emotions they’re feeling throughout the day and how their feelings have affected their interactions with others.
  • Understanding the causes of emotions: What happened that led me to feel this way? Figuring out possible causes behind feelings can help kids anticipate and manage uncomfortable feelings and help them consciously embrace things that lead feels we want to foster.
  • Labeling emotions accurately: What words best describe how I’m feeling right now? Both adults and children have access to more than 2,000 words in the English language that can describe emotions. However, most of us stick to a limited vocabulary (“good”, “fine”, “sad”, “mad”, etc.). Cultivating a rich emotional vocabulary allows children to pinpoint and communicate exactly how they’re feeling.
  • Expressing emotions appropriately: How can I express myself in this time and place? Explaining to kids what we are doing and why when it comes to expressing our feelings gives them models they can follow when they express their own emotions at home, with friends or at school.

Regulating emotions: How do I continue feeling emotions I want to feel or shift my feelings if I’m not? Strategies to manage emotions both in the moment and in the long term are critical to overall happiness.

Tools and Activities that Teach Happiness

In addition to modeling behaviors and actions that demonstrate the RULER framework in action, parents, teachers and other adults can promote emotional intelligence and happiness skills through activities and games.

Mood meters

The mood meter is a simple and concrete tool that helps shift conversations about feelings away from the rote “good” or “fine” to more nuanced responses like “curious”, “excited”, “scared” or “confident”.

Mood meters have two axes: 

  • The horizontal axis represents how pleasant or “good” it feels to experience this emotion. The far left represents the least pleasant you can imagine feeling and the far right represents the most pleasant. 
  • The vertical axis represents how much physical energy we feel while experiencing an emotion. The bottom of the range represents feeling drained of all energy, as if you can hardly move. The top of the axis represents feeling essentially the maximum amount of energy possible in your body.

When plotted out, these axes form 4 color-coded quadrants

  • Red: The top left quadrant containing high-energy and unpleasant feelings
  • Yellow: The top right quadrant represents energetic and pleasant emotions
  • Blue: The bottom left quadrant is made up of unpleasant feelings that rob us of physical energy
  • Green: The bottom right quadrant has higher energy and more pleasant emotions

Image by: Solutions for a Better Day

By using the mood meter, kids learn how to recognize their emotions based on what they’re feeling physically and emotionally. 

As children learn to use the mood meter they learn more and more feelings words to describe emotions that fall into each quadrant, helping them to label their emotions with more nuance and depth than before. 

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the mood meter tool is that it teaches kids that there are no “good” or “bad” feelings.

There are feelings that are more pleasant or energizing than others, but all emotions are valid and ok to feel. And for less pleasant feelings, they can use the mood meter to recognize, understand and label those feelings and use that information to better express and respond to those feelings.

Read-alouds

Read-alouds activities involve reading a story or scenario and then having children discuss and answer questions about the characters thoughts and emotions over the course of the narrative. These stories can be anywhere from just a few paragraphs for younger kids, all the way up to full chapter books as they get older. 

Read-Aloud Sample Questions
RecognizeWhat is the character feeling in this moment? How do you know they’re feeling that way?
UnderstandWhat happened in the story to make the character feel this way? What makes you feel this way in real life?
LabelWhere would this character’s feeling fall on the mood meter? What color would you give this feeling?
ExpressWhat did the character do or how did they act when they felt this emotion? What else do people do with they feel this way?
RegulateWhat could the character do to help them feel something more pleasant? What do you do when you feel this way? What would you do for a friend who was feeling this way?

For younger kids, pairing a read-aloud with the mood meter helps them practice applying emotional intelligence to the story’s character in a context with which they are familiar and experienced. 

Printing out pictures of characters from the story and moving them around a mood meter as their feelings change helps kids better prepare to deal with their own range of emotions.

Read-alouds are great activities to expand children’s knowledge of feelings and introduce them to new vocabulary for expressing their emotions. Parents and teachers can choose specific stories that are relevant to certain vocabulary they want to teach. 

A story about a visit to the dentist can be used to teach words like “nervous”, “anxious” or “confident”.

Sharing personal experiences with emotions

Parents and teachers can share short and simple stories about a life experience and describe the emotions they felt during this experience. Hearing about the feelings and experiences of adults helps children understand helpful ways to express and regulate their emotions. 

By openly talking about their own feelings and describing how those emotions looked and felt and how they expressed them, parents and teachers can foster an environment where children feel safe and supported in sharing their own feelings. 

Like a read-aloud, personal stories should involve a discussion surrounding your feelings and actions. 

Conclusion

Parents, teachers and other caregivers can help children develop and practice the skill of happiness through a whole slew of games and activities. Embedding the RULER framework and tools such as mood meters and read-alouds, we can help kids develop the EQ foundation necessary for lasting happiness. 

Whichever tools and activities you use, what matters is taking the time to help kids recognize and understand their emotions so they can express them in an appropriate and constructive manner. 

By taking these few, simple steps, you can boost you children’s EQ and help better prepare them for long-term successful outcomes in all facets of their life.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Take This EQ Self-Assessment

1-Self-Awareness

  • What are my thoughts and feelings?
  • What causes those thoughts and feelings?
  • How can I express my thoughts and feelings respectfully?

2-Self-Management

  • What different responses can I have to an event?
  • How can I respond to an event as constructively as possible?

3-Social Awareness

  • How can I better understand other people’s thoughts and feelings?
  • How can I better understand why people feel and think the way they do?

4-Relationship Skills

  • How can I adjust my actions so that my interactions with different people turn out well?
  • How can I communicate my expectations to other people?
  • How can I communicate with other people to understand and manage their expectations of me?

5-Responsible Decision Making

  • What consequences will my actions have on me and others?
  • How do my choices align with my values?
  • How can I solve problems creatively?