January 28, 2015
The new year, dawn, fresh snow and young children: they have something in common. They are full of hope, possibility and promise. I was reminded of this when I heard a program on NPR. It was about a school program designed to teach social-emotional intelligence. It's expensive but the argument is that it is less expensive than mental health care or incarceration; two problems it is geared toward preventing. I suggest we don't wait until children are in school but start in early childhood educating young children and their parents about the development of social emotional intelligence as the primary curriculum for that developmental phase and a key preventative measure. This is how we can support children's optimal healthy development and protect them from toxic stressors that could undermine this development. To learn emotional intelligence, children need to be surrounded by emotionally centered adults. They also need practice in social skills and connecting with/moving through emotions. According to a popular Buddhist nun, when we are present to our emotions, they move through us in about 90 seconds. However, repressing them or rekindling them with our thoughts are ways that prolong emotional states. Children are usually good at emoting. Adults can script children's emotional experiences by saying "You seem sad, angry, or afraid." With this acknowledgment, children learn how to experience emotion, to connect with themselves, and then to get along with others. I can imagine a new world in which we begin in early childhood, surrounding children and their parents with professionals who understand human development. Let's invest in programs that give children a solid foundation, trusting that a physically fit, emotionally balanced and socially skilled human is ready for life. As statistics show, we can spend the money upfront in positive preventative programming or pay it later with remedial measures. For me, I'll throw my lot in with early childhood education any day, and I have. I look forward to the day that quality early childhood programs are publicly funded, available to all children, and focused on the physical and social-emotional development of the child. Hope springs eternal.