Schools, Families, and Social and Emotional Learning
The Role of Parents in Social and Emotional Learning
“Family life is our first school for emotional learning,” states Daniel Goleman, the author of the groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence. Through family life “we learn how to feel about ourselves and how others will react to our feelings; how to think about these feelings and what choices we have in reacting; how to read and express hopes and fears.”1 This learning takes place, says Goleman, not only in what parents say and do, but in how adults treat each other. When parents are emotionally competent in their own relationships, they are more capable of helping their children work through their emotional challenges.
Parents’ impact. The emotional lessons that children learn from their parents are powerful and longlasting. When parents ignore their children’s feelings, children come to believe their feelings are not important. When parents repeatedly threaten or punish children for a display of emotion, children learn that emotions are dangerous things that need to be held inside and hidden—an invitation to later depression or rage. When parents are unable to show their angry and destructive children other ways of expressing emotion, children learn it is acceptable to strike out at others or have a tantrum to get whatever they want 2.
A careful study of parental relationships and parents’ interactions with children has shown another style of interacting that can help children grow in emotionally sound ways. Researcher John Gottman refers to this as being an “emotion coach.” 3 This means that parents use opportunities of difficult or hurtful emotions, such as when a child has had an argument or experienced a disappointment, to explore the true nature of those feelings and how to work with them constructively. Parents can encourage children to use feeling words, such as “I feel sad” or “That made me really angry,” to express their emotions rather than simply act on them.
A growing body of research suggests that helping children to develop good social and emotional skills early in life makes a big difference in their long-term health and well-being. Studies have shown that children’s social and emotional functioning and behaviors begin to stabilize around the age of eight and can predict the state of their behavior and mental health later in life.4 In other words, if children learn to express emotions constructively and engage in caring and respectful relationships before and while they are in their lower elementary grades, they are more likely to avoid depression, violence, and other serious mental health problems as they grow older.
Reprinted with the permission of the Committee for Children. © 2007 Committee for Children.
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