Saturday, October 12, 2013

Social and Emotional Development: The Mortar in the Foundation

Before I began teaching adolescent special education, I taught preschool. Despite the huge age gap, I found that many skills I had gained as a preschool teacher were useful to me in my new career as a middle and high school teacher, including of course, loads of patience. In addition, I noticed parallels in developmental stages. For instance, adolescents go through their own version of the “Terrible Twos,” in that they are suddenly awash in a sea of new emotions that they may not be able to identify or control. Like two years olds, they are also experimenting with their independence and agency in a way that often perceived as defiant. 

Social & emotional development is a central focus in preschool education. Early childhood curriculum recognizes the importance of helping children understand their emotions, learn how to self-regulate, and identify emotions in others and react appropriately. However, social and emotional development is largely absent in middle & high school curricula. 

My hunch is that if students’ social and emotional lives were as explicitly valued as any other part of learning, that far fewer adolescents would struggle with depression, anxiety, bullying, and risky behaviors. What’s more, I imagine that students who are emotionally healthy would be much better able to be engaged, successful learners. Yet this neglect of mental health is not included in the debate around how to help our “failing” schools.

Years ago when I began talking about this idea, I told anyone who would listen that we were mistakenly looking for chinks in the armor, for drafts around the windows and doors of this institution of education that we had built. Instead, what we needed to do was turn around and see that one of the walls was blown open. That missing wall is social and emotional development.

One simple step for schools to take: teach children to meditate. There is ample empirical evidence that meditation can improve mental health and decreases stress, to name just a few of many benefits.

What are your thoughts? Which schools & learning communities place great value on social & emotional knowledge? What are the best ways to support children in taking care of their mental and social health?


  1. Yes. Meditation. Again, I SO wish I had this. This is not a school, but I was involved for many years in a summer program, which does, I think, "place great value on social and emotional knowledge" and which was an important corrective/companion for me. They might be worth a visit. Let me know if your'e interested!