Protective Factor 5: Supporting Healthy Social and Emotional Development in Young Children

In the last few years, in my work at Ballard Community Services and in collaboration Strengthening Families Network and The United Way, I have become very clear about a few things regarding educating young people. One of the most crystal clear "A-ha!" moments occurred in a discussion about how we measure success in school. Academic achievement has always been the hallmark of success. Grades and test scores prove whether we have done our jobs as educators. Behavior (or, what I would re-label "social/emotional competency") is secondary and is something to be "managed" so that we can get to the end goal, which is purely academic.

I propose that we take that and flip it. What if we've been doing it wrong all along. What if the social and emotional piece is the primary goal, and the academic follows? How would education look? How would children's lives look? How might families benefit from this approach and, at the end of the day, how do we define success?

A high school graduate with some knowledge of history, math, science, language, and art seems well equipped to move on into the world. But if that graduate cannot self-soothe, cannot manage stress, doesn't know how to get along with others, or is otherwise lacking skills socially or emotionally, he or she will probably struggle to achieve job security, family security, or other important facets of adult life that traditionally equate to self sufficiency and happiness.

So rather than focusing on academics first and social emotional competency (in the form of "behavior) second, it appears we allow the tail to wag the dog.

No child can learn if he or she is emotionally stressed, does not know how to work in a group, or cannot handle pressure and be resilient.

Schools are doing more and more in this area, but we are only beginning to break a very long and very institutionalized model of thinking about success.

The Ballard Center is pleased to have been selected by The Douglas County Child Development Association last year to be a Positive Behavior Supports training site. This means that Ballard teachers and staff receive intensive training on a system-wide model of teaching children to rely on their strengths, find solutions, and manage their interactions with others.

Teachers are trained, in a Positive Behavior model, to praise good behavior, to use positive words instead of negative ones, and create a safe and consistent climate wherein children know what to expect and how to navigate the day without surprises or opportunities to make poor choices.

Having done this work now for several months, we already see marked improvement in not only the children's behaviors, but their academic work. When we are not constantly "managing" poor behavior or resorting to consequences, children and teachers are free to work in tandem or independently on the business of learning.

Supporting children's social and emotional development is the first step to creating healthy adults. It is the foundation upon which we build success - however that is defined.

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