In my time working with high school students I visited schools of varying socioeconomic statuses and demographics. One thing was the same across the board, a lack of emotional regulation training. Despite the incredible benefits emotional health has on us physically and psychologically this kind of education is sorely lacking in society in general. Regardless of one’s socioeconomic status, religious background, or home life most of us aren’t taught how to manage our emotions. Developing the skills required to regulate your emotions and take control of your feelings is not easy. And, like other skills, it requires time and practice. These are also immensely important skills to have in order to be successful in future personal and professional relationships and environments. For these reasons, Emotional Health should be a priority in our education system.
Regulating our feelings and the thoughts that lead to those feelings is also known as self control. When you are able to control your emotions, your prefrontal cortex is more available for you to make good decisions.
According to countless studies, having self control correlates with:
In addition to emotional regulation, teaching children how to have positive relationships not only encourages positivity, builds confidence and teaches good manners, it also helps children identify harmful relationships and what to do about them. Physical harm is much easier to spot than is emotional harm. Most people in general minimize the impact that negative individuals and relationships can have in our lives. Our schools need to encourage children to be a positive force in their relationships, how to spot negative relationships and what to do about them when they come across it.
Why shouldn’t our schools be a safe haven for students?
One of the many concerns I came across in my time working with students and teachers was how much a student’s home life effected their educational life. And of course it does. Unfortunately far too many children have a variety of things that greatly impact their lives in a negative way. Why shouldn’t our schools be a safe haven for them? Why not make it a priority to give kids the skills and the communities of peers and adults to help them manage their struggles?
The Holistic Life Foundation in Baltimore recently started aiding schools in creating an “Oasis of Calm” room that replaces detention. Here, not only do students work with behavioral professionals, they also practice mindfulness techniques. The results are amazing. Two years after the program began not one suspension has been issued.
So, What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the therapeutic technique by which we learn how to manage our emotions. While mindfulness has roots in buddhist meditation, a secular practice has entered the American mainstream in recent years. Through mindfulness practice we learn to asses our surrounding environment, emotions, bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Its as though you are a fly on the wall of your mind. The importance is to observe without judgement. Since the late 1970s mindfulness techniques have been used in countless programs in hospitals, prisons, schools, veterans centers, and more. Thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness.
These studies have shown that practicing mindfulness, even for a few weeks, can have a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits. These benefits include boosting our immune system, increasing positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress, and being an effective antidepressant. Mindfulness improves attention skills. It boosts altruism and self-compassion as well as enhances relationships. Mindfulness can even fight obesity through “mindful eating.” Meditation and mindfulness literally changes the brain by increasing the gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotional regulation, and empathy.
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Mindfulness is just one of the many tools experts have to help individuals learn how to notice, address, and manage their emotional health. And there are plenty of resources out there to help individuals of all ages begin to practice good emotional health. In an upcoming article my guest expert will address this specifically for little ones. Incorporating education of this kind into the classroom for kids of all levels would be straightforward.
Helping students manage their emotions will, of course, help with classroom management and instill employability skills but more importantly just imagine the long term positive impact it will have on children’s lives and wellbeing. This is yet another seed that will grow into a society with less violence, less substance abuse, fewer incarcerated individuals, and more empathy. It is incredibly important to the wellbeing of society. This is why I believe it is imperative that training in emotional health and regulation become a regular and prioritized part of our education system.