What They’re Teaching in School Now (& Why You Should Care)

There’s some exciting stuff brewing in the world of education, and it’s not just about how boost test scores: It’s about how emotional literacy can and must be taught in school. What used to lie outside the sphere of academics is becoming a focal point of education as experts recognize the importance of social-emotional skills in a child’s development.

What makes this so big is that they’re saying, essentially, that managing your emotions has a direct impact on your life, productivity, and achievement—and it’s a skill you can learn.

In a recent piece in the New York Times magazine (“This Is What Anger Looks Like”), Times contributor Jennifer Kahn writes,

“Once a small corner of education theory, S.E.L. has gained traction in recent years, driven in part by concerns over school violence, bullying and teen suicide. But while prevention programs tend to focus on a single problem, the goal of social-emotional learning is grander: to instill a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions.”

Here’s why this is so amazing: What researchers are saying is that a child’s ability to understand and manage their emotions may be predictive of a psychologically (and possibly even physically) healthier life. Some experts, like Maurice Elias, a psychology professor at Rutgers University and the director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, also quoted in Kahn’s piece, are calling it the “ ‘missing piece’ in American education.”

This is what I’ve believed for a long time—and it’s the basis of our approach at meQuilibrium on: You don’t have to let your emotions rule you or determine the quality of your life. By going to the root cause and addressing your response to stress, you can change it.

I asked my colleague and meQ’s Chief Science Officer Andrew Shatte, PhD, to weigh in on the topic.

“Emotional Intelligence was a breakthrough concept, mostly because it demonstrated that beyond a certain point, say an IQ of 115 to 130, more IQ points probably didn’t matter,” he told me. “That after that point, in any situation, what mattered most in terms of success was emotional intelligence–awareness of the emotional state of oneself and others and how to harness that knowledge to achieve.”

He went on to tell me that experts in this field have been involved with insights and assessments of emotional intelligence. But where they often come up short is prescription.

“The question remains, how do you get better at emotional intelligence?” Andrew asks. “That lack of clarity is why we have so many social-emotional intelligence programs competing for schools’ interest. Everyone has a take on how to boost emotional intelligence and few have been tested and validated.”

Take Dan Goleman’s famous and wonderful book Emotional Intelligence. “He spends 99.9% of the book describing emotional intelligence and .1% offering a prescription,” Andrew said. “Basically, if you want to boost your EQ you’ve got to understand how you think, because thoughts determine emotions.”

It’s not enough just to note this in your head or tell yourself you’re just not going to get upset again—anymore than why looking at a set of weights isn’t the same as lifting it. In order to make real changes, you’ve got to practice—and this is why the programs that target your thoughts (which lie at the root of your emotional response to stressors), like meQuilibrium, are the way to go.

If you’re looking into schools for your children, ask about what evidence-based programs they use to teach these vital skills. Because those, Andrew and I believe, are the ones that are likely to have the sorts of outcomes we want—long-term change for better, stronger children and citizens in our world.

(Find out how the meQ app can help you track, understand, and manage your emotions.)