Monthly Archives: November 2016

Manage Emotions Boosts Children’s Well

Schools lay the groundwork for cognitive development, especially in academic areas. But what about emotional development? Proficiency in dealing with emotions is also important for leading a successful life. Yet little effort has been made in school to teach children how to manage their feelings.

With the introduction of RULER, this may not be the case for much longer. More and more schools around the U.S. are implementing this program aimed at teaching students—and teachers—to ‘Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, and Regulate’ emotions.

Supported by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, it incorporates social and emotional skills training into the school curriculum to support child development. Specific curricula are available from kindergarten to grade 12, and ongoing implementation is necessary to solidify these skills as children get older.

“They’ve started to teach students about feelings as explicitly as they teach math and reading,” writes Seattle Times education reporter John Higgins.

The program is based on the work of two psychologists, John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who began their scientific study of emotional intelligence over two decades ago. They focus on a direct link between critical-thinking skills and emotions.

According to Meyer and Salovey emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, monitor, and manage the emotions of others and oneself, to guide actions and ways of thinking.

Studies show that those who are reluctant to understand and express their feelings experience higher levels of anxiety, depression, and certain psychiatric disorders. They also report lower levels of well-being and social support.

At school, children experience a wide range of emotions every day. In addition to the stress of managing their studies and homework, they face a number of social struggles, such as conflicts with friends, romantic relationships, and bullying.

Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and one of the developers of RULER, says that the way students feel at school has a profound effect on how they learn, influencing their chances of success at school, at home, and with friends. And some individuals are generally more successful at handling emotions than others.

Through different tools, RULER provides a common language for expressing emotions, for dealing with conflicts between students, and for addressing conflicts between students and teachers, making for an open and supportive environment necessary for learning. For example, the “mood meter,”—a sheet of paper divided into four coloured quadrants—is designed to help students build a vocabulary around different emotions.

“I have a teacher who checks in with the Mood Meter on Monday mornings and it’s nice to just know that someone’s listening. It gets us in the mood to work, eases us back into school,” explains a grade 11 high-school student in the program.

Other tools, such as the “meta-moment”, train students to use the few seconds following a moment of anger to take a deep breath and imagine how their “best self” would react.

One 7-year-old student talks about her experience with the meta-moment:

“When I’m not in a good mood, RULER can help me solve the problem. Like when my brother pushed sand on my sand castle and wouldn’t fix it. I felt really angry at him, but I took a meta-moment and realized it wasn’t hard to fix what he did and he didn’t do it on purpose. Then I felt a little more forgiving.”

Some are critical of social and emotional learning initiatives within a classroom setting, arguing that schools are not an appropriate venue for emotional education. Others emphasize the price-tag; an online resource and four days total of in-person training costs $10,500 per school (for up to three participants).

However, Brackett’s research shows that implementing RULER can improve a school’s climate while fostering positive development and academic achievement among its students. Some notable improvements include better relationships between students and teachers, more student autonomy and leadership, improved academic success, and fewer reports of bullying.

Students’ mental health profiles greatly improve as well. Kids and adolescents who are involved with this program have experienced reduced levels of anxiety, depression, aggression, hyperactivity, social stress, and alcohol and drug usage. And research shows how children’s ability to handle their emotions and to be mindful of others’ feelings has a significant effect on their mental health.

Not all children come with the tools necessary for academic and social success. Programs like RULER provide a platform for children to learn how to navigate emotional struggles, so they can leave their primary education with methods to succeed in their work and personal lives.

How to Spring Clean Your Social Media Clutter

There seems to be two types of people in this world when it comes to clutter. There are those that like to hang on to mementos from the past, almost as if their souvenirs were “evidence” of their histories. Others, however, can let go of material possessions as they value the experiences more than the “proof” that an event happened.

Being distracted by non-essential information can negatively affect your ability to complete essential tasks! While keeping up with friends electronically can be a surprisingly healthy option for maintaining a sense of connection and mattering to others, when you spend hours comparing yourself to others’ “best moments” or spend more time attending to the electronic social media in your palm than the social gathering you’re in, this can be detrimental to healthy, face-to-face relationships.

Here are five tips to get you started on spring-cleaning your electronic clutter:

Whether you are a loyal Facebooker or you’re tweeting or linking in with people that you care about, people that you’ve never met before, or just people for the sake of being heard, it’s important to do some regular housekeeping on these sites just like your stack of old grocery receipts. When you’re being inundated with too much information about people you can’t remember meeting, it’s probably a sign that your social media accounts are ripe for some trimming back of contacts with whom you seldom — or never — make contact.

Research shows that having a two or three people you can count on as “good friends” is all that a person really needs in order to reap the benefits of social connections. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with too many birthday reminders or status updates, it’s okay to let go of connections that drain you rather than serve you. Turn off updates or “unfollow” the people, organizations, or groups that inundate you with instant alerts.

Getting a fresh start feels remarkably freeing and when social media and non-work-related technology platforms are beginning to feel more like obligations than recreation or pleasant diversions, it’s time to de-clutter and downsize these sites. If you can’t bring yourself to unfriend people, then delete the app off your phone for awhile. You’ll still be able to catch up later, but give yourself a “clutter break” for a time.

Clean up your contact list on your phone. If you tend to collect contact information for people you meet anywhere and everywhere, you might have a phone filled with names and numbers that mean very little to you by now. Take time to clean out your contacts – if a name isn’t familiar or you’ve never placed a call to someone, delete, delete, delete. If you need the number of a great electrician next week, you can ask your friends then – don’t collect names and contact info just to store away and have trouble finding later.

How many emails do you have “sitting” in your inbox? Some people worry about the tenuous nature of electronic communications and let their emails stack up higher than the junk mail pile in their homes! If you are the kind of person who “needs” to keep emails, make the time to create relevant folders and sort them as they arrive. You can set up most email programs to sort them to the proper folder as soon as they are received. This is an awesome set-up – you don’t “lose” emails, but you don’t have to dig through 60 to find the one from your business colleague or mother-in-law, either. This won’t fix your current stack of 1,200 emails, but you can create a folder called “2017 Email Clean-Up” and move the backlog into this folder. Then you can reap the benefits of a “clean” Inbox – but promise yourself to sort and file new emails every day moving forward.

The most important think to remember is that all of our electronic forms of communication are designed to serve you — when you feel driven to keep up with the 24/7 nature of electronic communication, you know it’s time to take a break. Don’t be a slave to your cellphone — and remember that true friends understand that their friends have lives of their own.

Know More About Anger

Anger is tricky.

On the one hand, anger – feeling annoyed, irritated, resentful, fed up, mad, outraged, or enraged – alerts us to real threats, real injuries, and real wrongs that need correcting, and it energizes and fuels us to do something about them. In my family growing up, my parents had a monopoly on anger. So I suppressed my own, along with a lot of other feelings, and it’s been a long journey to reclaim my interior, including anger, and be able to feel it fully and (hopefully) express it skillfully.

Whether in personal relationships or in the halls of power, people in positions of authority or privilege often tell others that they don’t deserve to be angry, they shouldn’t get so worked up, it’s their own fault, etc. when in fact they have every reason and right in the world to be angry. It is certainly important to know in your heart what is actually happening, how bad it is, what the causes are, and what to do – and decide for yourself how much you want to get or stay angry.

On the other hand, anger:

Feels bad past the first rush of it
Stresses the body, over time wearing down health
Narrows attention, losing sight of the big picture
Clouds judgment, driving us to act impulsively, potentially violently
Creates and revves up conflicts with others
Anger often hurts us more than it hurts others. I believe there is a saying from Alcoholics Anonymous: “Resentment is like taking poison . . . and waiting for others to die.” This metaphor of a beguiling toxin is also found in a description from early Buddhism: “Anger has a honeyed tip . . . and a poisoned barb.”

How?

Recognize anger. Feel it, don’t suppress it. Explore it, and find whatever is valid in what it is telling you. Also look beneath it, to the hurt or sorrow or outrage on behalf of others. Help yourself open to and include all of yourself. Be skeptical of others who try to talk you out of your reactions out of their own self-interest.

Figure out what you are going to do. Usually not easy, to be sure, but try to slow things down so you can think clearly, find your ground, and Take Heart (another, recent post of mine).

This said, beware – be watchful, be wary – of how anger can work on your mind and hijack you.

Anger comes with justifications. We feel wronged, mistreated, affronted, provoked: “Of course I’m mad. You made me mad. It’s your fault.” I remember once banging my shin on a coffee table and getting so mad I kicked the table . . . as if it were to blame. Anger is seductive, drawing us into cases against others, bills of prosecution, mental emails drafted in bed at 2 am (speaking from personal experience!). Anger fools us, making us feel perfectly entitled to lash out and say or do terrible things . . . from which we eventually wake as if from a nightmare with dismay and remorse at our actions. Anger is – literally – tricky.

And anger is a particularly powerful trickster when it plays out inside and between groups. You can see this at all scales, from cliques in high school to office gossip to politics to war. A group will often form around shared grievances, and then defend and proclaim those grievances no matter what the facts are to maintain its cohesion and identity. Whether on the schoolyard in 5th grade or in nations throughout history, authoritarian leaders have exploited our social primate vulnerability to the appeal of grievance in order to acquire and hold on to power, inflating and even inventing grievances while promising to protect the group and avenge it against those who have wronged it.

It is no small thing to find your own way inside such a group with such a leader. Or to find a way to relate to those in such groups with moral clarity and strength of heart – without being clouded or infected by anger yourself.

In my meditative tradition, I’ve heard it said that anger is like throwing hot coals with bare hands: both people get burned. In relationships, families, organizations, countries, and the world altogether, there has been so much burning already in our shared human history. Too much burning. Too many minds burned up with anger.

Potency, agency, authenticity, fierce compassion, moral confidence, truth spoken to power: none of these is anger or requires anger. Truly, each one of us can come home to the dignity, authority, and courage to stand in the truth and speak from the heart with passion and power, free of the flames of anger.