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Resources to help students build emotional intelligence

(Edi­tor’s note: Daniel Gole­man is now con­duct­ing a great series of audio inter­views includ­ing one with Richard David­son on Train­ing the Brain: Cul­ti­vat­ing Emo­tion­al Skills. We are hon­ored to bring you this guest post by Daniel Gole­man, thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine.)

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Resources to help stu­dents build emo­tion­al intel­li­gence

By Daniel Gole­man

The scene: a first-grade class­room in a Man­hat­tan school. Not just any class­room this one has lots of Spe­cial Ed stu­dents, who are very hyper­ac­tive. So the room is a whirlpool of fren­zied activ­i­ty. The teacher tells the kids that they’re going to lis­ten to a CD. The kids qui­et down a bit.

Then they get pret­ty still as the CD starts, and a man’s voice asks the kids to lie down on their backs, arms at their sides, and get a “breath­ing bud­dy,” like a stuffed ani­mal, who will sit on their stom­achs and help them be aware of their breath­ing. The voice takes the chil­dren through a series of breath­ing and body aware­ness exer­cis­es, and the kids man­age to calm down and stay focused through the entire six min­utes, which ends with them wig­gling their toes.

You’ve just learned how to make your body feel calm and relaxed,” says the voice. “And you can do this again any time you want.”

The voice on the CD is mine, though I’m read­ing the words of Lin­da Lantieri, who has pio­neered pub­lic school pro­grams in social and emo­tion­al learn­ing that have been adopt­ed world­wide.

Her newest pro­gram adds an impor­tant tool to the emo­tion­al intel­li­gence kit: mind­ful­ness, a moment-by-moment aware­ness of one’s inter­nal state and exter­nal envi­ron­ment. In a Building emotional intelligencenew book, Build­ing Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence, which comes with the CD, Lantieri uses mind­ful­ness train­ing to enhance con­cen­tra­tion and atten­tion among kids, and to help them learn to bet­ter calm them­selves. Build­ing Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence comes with instruc­tions that explain how teach­ers and par­ents can adapt Latier­i’s exer­cis­es to kids at dif­fer­ent age lev­els (five to sev­en, eight to 11, or 12 and up) and pro­vides detailed expla­na­tions of each exer­cise.

Lantier­i’s project exem­pli­fies the ways we can build on sci­en­tif­ic insights to help chil­dren mas­ter the skills of emo­tion­al intel­li­gence. As Richard David­son, founder of the Lab­o­ra­to­ry for Affec­tive Neu­ro­science at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin, explained to me in a recent con­ver­sa­tion, this kind of instruc­tion takes advan­tage of a nat­ur­al neur­al win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty dur­ing child­hood. The neur­al cir­cuit­ry that allows us to pay atten­tion, calm our­selves, and attune to oth­ers’ feel­ings all takes shape in the first two decades of life. And yet kids today face a range of social con­di­tions pri­mar­i­ly stress caused by school and peer pres­sures, unsta­ble home lives, and hec­tic sched­ules that foil the healthy devel­op­ment of this cir­cuit­ry.

We often mis­take the symp­toms of unman­aged stress in our chil­dren as inap­pro­pri­ate behav­ior that needs to be stopped,” writes Lantieri in Build­ing Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence. “Chil­dren are rep­ri­mand­ed by teach­ers and par­ents for actions that are real­ly stress reac­tions, rather than inten­tion­al mis­be­hav­ior. The sit­u­a­tion becomes a down­ward spi­ral of one stress reac­tion after anoth­er, and both adult and child are caught in it.”

As a result, kids can grow up with a range of defi­cien­cies in these key life skills defi­cien­cies that can trou­ble them through­out life, in their rela­tion­ships, and at work. For 20 years, writes Lantieri, schools have waged “pre­ven­tion wars,” like the “war on drugs,” to reduce anti­so­cial and self-destruc­tive behav­ior. In Build­ing Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence, she argues that we must instead focus on build­ing resilience and self-knowl­edge. By offer­ing kids a sys­tem­at­ic edu­ca­tion in social and emo­tion­al intel­li­gence, we can help coun­ter­act the neg­a­tive forces in their lives, and they can take these skills with them as they mature.

Par­ents and teach­ers tell kids count­less times to “calm down” or “pay atten­tion.” But the nat­ur­al course of a child’s devel­op­ment means that the brain’s cir­cuit­ry for calm­ing and focus­ing is a work in progress. Those neur­al sys­tems are still grow­ing. They will be shaped by the expe­ri­ences kids have, so the lessons Lantieri offers are invalu­able. In the Man­hat­tan schools I vis­it­ed, teach­ers played the CD for kids right before tests, to help them get in the best brain state for learn­ing and remem­ber­ing. Lantieri has cre­at­ed a great assis­tant for teach­ers, a way to help kids be bet­ter stu­dents not just for bet­ter learn­ing, but for bet­ter behav­ior, too.

A win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty exists right now in our soci­ety for these kinds of approach­es to make their way into our homes and our schools,” writes Lantieri. “It is essen­tial for chil­dren to learn new ways to have their human spir­its uplift­ed and their inner lives nour­ished as a nor­mal, nat­ur­al part of their child­hood expe­ri­ence. Far from being mar­gin­al or irrel­e­vant, atten­tion to build­ing our chil­dren’s emo­tion­al intel­li­gence and inner lives will help us achieve the equi­lib­ri­um we all need in this chaot­ic world.”

– Daniel Gole­man, Ph.D., is the author of the best­sellers Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence and Social Intel­li­gence. His web­site is www.danielgoleman.info. Gole­man’s full con­ver­sa­tion with Richard David­son can be heard as part of the audio series Wired to Con­nect: Dia­logues on Social Intel­li­gence, avail­able through More than Sound Pro­duc­tions.

We bring you this post thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine, a UC-Berke­ley-based quar­ter­ly mag­a­zine that high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tif­ic research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altru­ism.

Pre­vi­ous columns by Daniel Gole­man:

- Should Social-Emo­tion­al Learn­ing Be Part of Aca­d­e­m­ic Cur­ricu­lum?

- When Empa­thy moves us to Action-By Daniel Gole­man

- The Pow­er of Mind­sight-by Daniel Gole­man

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