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March 10, 2021

How crucial it is to teach Emotional regulation in schools.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.

When I was eight years old, my schoolmates would make fun of my trembling hands.I was just too embarrassed to give an explanation for the shaking because I was never told by my parents what was it.Anyways I was a timid and anxious child by nature(or nurture), who believed that people-pleasing was the only way to avoid confrontations and get validation. Similar incidents at social gatherings would make me more nervous and I’d start questioning my self-worth. I became a compulsive people-pleaser. We’ll come back to my story in sometime again, but let’s first have a look at brain development in initial years of our lives.

A human brain develops most rapidly from 0 to 5 years. That means most of our responses, behaviour and emotional regulation skills are developed during this period. Post that, the brain grows indeed, but not as fast. Newborns have all of the brain cells (also known as neurons) they’ll have for the rest of their life, but it’s the connection between these cells that really makeup the working of the brain. These early years are the best time period for a child’s brain to develop the connections they need to be healthy and successful as adults. What the child absorbs from the environment will make up his understanding of the world around it.

Now, studies have shown that whether a child has healthy emotional regulation skills or not in the initial years can predict if he or she will have a successful career. A study on a child’s ability to delay gratification at age of 4 was done by psychologist Walter Mischel during the 1960s at a preschool in Standford university campus. The toddlers were proposed that if they wait until the experimenter runs an errand they can have two of the marshmallows kept in front of them as a treat otherwise they can have only one and that too right away.

Some of them ate the marshmallows at first instance while some tried different ways to fight the impulse to eat – covering their eyes, talking to themselves, sleeping. The participants were tracked down as they were graduating from high school. The results of the study were astonishing- the third of children who grabbed the treats most eagerly as 4-year-olds scored 210 points lesser on an average in SAT scores than the third of children who waited the longest.

Another study on impact of emotional ineptness was done on the factor of belligerence. About 870 children from upstate New York were followed from the time they were eight until they were thirty. The ones who as children used force as a way to succeed and were quick to get angry were most likely to have dropped out of school or have record for crimes of violence.

Many such studies have been done by top psychologists around the world to show that students who are anxious, angry or depressed for longer periods aren’t able to learn efficiently and if these emotions aren’t managed in time, they can lead to unhappy and unsuccessful lives in the most likelihood. The ability to stay motivated and optimistic despite failures is another crucial predictor for success in life.

A child’s behaviour is a mirror image of his or her nurture and the genetic gifts. One who is shy by birth can be made more outgoing with gentle but regular efforts by the parents.But the problem here is that the parents have to be aware and mindful to be able to teach their child these social skills. Since that would require the parents to be socially ept themselves, schools can be the next best option for a child to learn these skills. The importance of inculcating emotional intelligence skills during childhood is at its peak.According to a Statista Research Department study of 2018, there were over 190,000 serious violent crimes committed by youths (between the ages of 12 and 17) in the US. The newspapers are full of events involving teenage shootings over minor slights, violence over ego bruises and suicides related to poor academic performance or public image issues.

Since children spend most of their daily active hours in school, lessons on understanding social cues and empathy can make a huge difference in their academic performances too. According to Dr. David Hamburg, a psychiatrist,” school is a crucible and defining experience that will heavily influence children’s adolescense and beyond.A child’s sense of self worth depends substantially on his or her ability to achieve in school“. Many such programs of emotional regulation have already been introduced in some forward-looking schools and they have shown positive results in child’s EQ (emotional quotient) development.

John Lochman, a Duke university psychologist ,who designed an experimental program to work with anger-ridden grade school troublemakers for twice a week for six to twelve weeks, found that three years after the boys had been through training, they were less aggressive and disruptive in class in their adolescense. They were also less likely to become an alcoholic or take drugs in their teenage. Another program consisting of a special after-school class at a Oregon high school was organised. There were about one in four students who had what psychologists call a “low-level depression”. These students were taught to challenge their thinking patterns and engage more in social activitites. As a result, 55 percent of students who attended the eight-week program had recovered from their mild depression while only a quarter of those who didn’t attend the program had begun to pull out of their depression.

Coming back to my story, if I was introduced to any of these programs during my schooling years, I might have turned out to be less anxious, depressed or hypervigilant than I am at present. The initial tremors are still there and I have to work really hard to heal parts of myself that I acquired as a genetic gift or through nurture. It would have been much easier to achieve healing if someone had interfered when I was in my adolescense or maybe when I was four.

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