Fig. 1 A picture of children from a variety of backgrounds — Image Credit — taken from https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/mental-health-matters/social-and-emotional-learning/emotional-development/coping-skills-managing

Let’s teach our kids in school (from an early age e.g. 7+) about how to effectively regulate their emotions.

“There isn’t a single child who, with understanding and patience, can’t be guided along a trajectory that leads to a rich and meaningful life.” -Dr. Stuart Shanker

If we teach school-going children (aged approximately from 7 years+ and up — when you can “reason” with a child adequately enough — if they learn before this age that may prove to be ineffective given that they are still young etc.) emotion regulation skills while they are in primary school — will we see fewer cases of anxiety and depression in our future adults?

Mental Health is so important to get right for our children these days. The problems that occur with Mental Health in the children of today is often overlooked and treated like it doesn’t matter when it really does matter to a person’s overall well-being and life.

I know that not all children need this assistance but with that said, wouldn’t it be a good useful skill for them to learn in school anyway? Wouldn’t this create happier children? better learning outcomes for our children overall educationally in the greater big scheme of things?

What is Emotion Regulation and why should it be taught?

Emotion Regulation can be defined as the ability to regulate one’s own emotions. I think its imperative that we are able to take ownership of our emotions. It’s a set of skills that enables your child to inhibit their emotional or behavioural responses and direct their behaviour towards a goal, such as making it till the end of the birthday party for the cake to be served or not hitting their friend so as to have an enjoyable playdate.

Essentially though, emotional regulation boils down to how your child manages incoming and outgoing stress.

Image Credit: Ryan Franco — Huntington Central Park, Huntington Beach, United States @ryanmfranco

Children watch more than listen these days so if you model a CALM approach to things — that will be the best example for a child to follow.

Another idea is to teach them what Dr Dan Siegel has written about — which breaks down the neuroscience of their emotions in a simple way by looking at the upstairs brain (thinking) and the downstairs (emotional brain) and how our thinking brain goes offline when our emotions are running high.

A great book to read by Dr Dan Siegel is this: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Whole-Brain-Child-Strategies-Nurture-Developing/dp/1780338376/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1546952635&sr=8-2&keywords=the+developing+mind

Taking Baby Steps towards happiness and overall well-being

My theory I would like to present to you today involves the following algorithm I have noticed when it comes to anyone learning a new subject in education.

Emotions drive behaviour => Behaviour drives attention => Attention drives Learning.

Let’s say you are learning a new subject in school — the subject you start to learn about evokes certain emotions within you and this, in turn, drives your behaviour. Behaviour then drives your interest and attention (whether we like it or not) and keeping our attention on a topic adequately enough helps to drive the overall learning outcome.

When attention gets lost by a student or if the person involved feels weakness in a subject they are studying, the overall learning outcome can be affected and this is when sometimes people get help with this area sometimes in the form of grinds, tutorials etc.

A quick look at what history has shown us

In the mid-1900s, Maslow (1943) — (usually known for his hierarchy of needs pyramid) changed the direction of this thinking when he described how people can build emotional strength, making emotions pertinent to education. Emotions were previously regarded as irrational and inexplicable, they were then conceived as being rational and related to logic and understanding but this did not happen until the 1980s. (Griffiths, 1984). Our thinking began to change in the 1990s with the latter conception allowing emotions to be organised and shaped (LeDoux, 1998) and because “emotions can convey valuable information and enhance cognitive processes, they have become viewed as integral to the learning process” (Schutz & Lanehart, 2002).

Fig.2: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid — Image Credit — taken from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Why would this be good for teachers and students to learn together?

Since students do not necessarily “choose” to be at school or to participate in particular learning activities, they may need to regulate a variety of emotions in the classroom (Turner, Meyer & Schweinle, 2003). Teachers also face situations that may make them feel a variety of different emotions such as: angry, frustrated, disgusted, and sad, and “they need to find appropriate ways of regulating these emotions” in the classroom too — not just the children! (Hargreaves, 2000). The implementation of emotion regulation techniques is therefore important for both students and teachers and will ultimately lead to a better outcome for both parties involved.

The importance of validation in the environment

I also think it is super important that children feel validation from their carers, teachers, and parents. For instance, if your child cuts their knee and you tell them “oh its nothing, don’t worry” — whether you know this or not, you are actually invalidating that child’s pain and that is not a good thing to do as then the child will suppress their hurt feelings. Telling children not to feel the way that they do (eg, by saying, “Don’t be scared/sad/angry”), can lead children to believe that their emotions are wrong and they are bad for having them. Remember that “all feelings are okay” and for children to learn how to manage them they first need to be acknowledged and understood.

You are better off saying “oh that must hurt a lot” — let me clean that up for you and try to get you a plaster to put over it. That way you are not invalidating the child’s experienced pain.

Conclusion: If we want to have more positive educational outcomes for our children — by them learning emotion regulation skills at school, like mindfulness we are in essence, setting the stage up for them to be able to live a happier, calmer and more balanced life. If they have techniques of relaxation they can easily refer to when they get themselves into a bind, feel overwhelmed or face a problem in life, won’t this, in turn, work at reducing or hopefully eliminating their experienced anxiety and sadness that the person may or may not be feeling later on in life once they have grown up.

References

Fried, L. (2011). Teaching Teachers about Emotion Regulation in the Classroom. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 36(3).
Griffiths, M. (1984). Emotions and education. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 18(2), 223–231.
Hargreaves, A. (2000). Mixed emotions: Teachers’ perceptions of their interactions with students. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16, 811–826
LeDoux, J. (1998). The emotional brain. New York: Phoenix.
Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370- 396
Schutz, P.A., & Lanehart, S.J. (2002). Introduction: Emotions in education. Educational Psychologist, 37, 67–68.
Siegel, Dan (2012) The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Proven Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, the 1st Edition.
Turner, J.C., Meyer, D.K., & Schweinle, A. (2003). The importance of emotion in theories of motivation: Empirical, methodological, and theoretical considerations from a goal theory perspective. International Journal of Educational Research, 39(4–5), 375–393

Websites

  1. https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/mental-health-matters/social-and-emotional-learning/emotional-development/coping-skills-managing
  2. https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html