Social & Emotional Learning: What is it? How can we use it to help our children?

By Dr. Robin Stern, Ph.D


What skills are the best predictors of academic and life success? Why is it that some children grow up to be fulfilled adults in challenging careers and satisfying relationships, while other children, from apparently similar backgrounds and academic performance, struggle in relationships, dead-end careers and depressions? A growing number of educators recognize that students who receive an exclusively academic education may be ill-equipped for future challenges, both as individuals and members of society — it’s just not enough to feed only the mind. The field of social and emotional learning (SEL) has emerged from these new understandings of the nature of biology, emotions and intelligence and their relation to success and happiness. Through social and emotional learning children’s emotional intelligence (EQ) is bolstered, giving them an enormous edge in their personal and professional futures.

What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is not a new concept; it was around as long ago as Socrates, who had these wise words of advice: Know Thyself. Hundreds of years later, we have begun to formalize Socrates’ philosophies into what has become known as social and emotional learning (SEL), the learning process by which we can aspire to a higher EQ. Studies show that EQ is the best predictor of a child’s future achievement; better than any other single factor. EQ is a better predictor of success than IQ and technical skills combined. In the 1980s, Howard Gardner, in his important work on multiple intelligences, outlined the presence of seven domains of intelligence; two of them were interpersonal and intrapersonal – these combined were the forerunner of what we now know as emotional intelligence. The term was first coined by Peter Salovey, professor and psychologist at Yale University, and John Mayer, professor and psychologist at the University of New Hampshire. In 1995 Daniel Goleman, the leading expert in this field, reported “IQ is only a minor predictor of success in life, while emotional and social skills are far better predictors of success and well-being than academic intelligence.”

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