Monthly Archives: May 2015

  • Altruism and Social Emotional Learning

    Two hands reaching out

    Social emotional learning has been shown to heighten academic success, ready students for the workplace, and help prevent risky behaviors such as substance abuse and violence. Furthermore, researchers at the Greater Good Science Center say social emotional learning cultivates in students an innate human altruism. Dacher Keltner, UC Berkeley professor and author of Born to Be Good, asserts “based on research in psychology, sociology, and neuroscience that we are also wired for good.” If we are wired for good, the theory is we need simply to harness that desire to act based on that hard-wired good.

    According to the Greater Good Science Center, much “compelling proof that we are wired for altruism, kindness, and compassion comes from numerous studies that demonstrate children as young as 14 months have innate altruistic tendencies, well before socialization can have a major influence on their development.” The Science Center cites 18-month olds who help other people without outside encouragement. In one case, seeing an adult who had his hand full of books, a toddler opened a cupboard for him.

    Still other researchers found “toddlers’ happiness levels increased significantly when they gave away one of their own treats rather than a treat that belonged to another person.” Toddlers’ positive feelings were reinforced by their desire to share their belongings with their peers. It is a sort of cyclical effect of the desire to do good deeds for others engendering good feelings which then prompts the further desire to do more good deeds.

    But how does this all tie back to social emotional learning? The development of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and empathy encourages children to bond with others in a meaningful way.  According to the Greater Good Science Center, “fostering social and emotional skills helps to build classroom and school environments that bring out our innate altruism.” Cooperative learning environments that reinforce and normalize cooperative behaviors in children, in turn inspire children to carry these behaviors out into the world. In this process of bonding, children are likely to find the desire to share and to give, reinforcing what Keltner calls the hard-wired altruism that lies within us.

  • National Prevention Week

    Mendez_I_Choose_PhotoWagner was so excited to participate in SAMHSA’s “I Choose” Project for National Prevention Week!  As we wrap up a week of spreading messages for prevention, we at the Mendez Foundation reflect on our origins, and we thought it would be fun to share with you a little of our history.

    Doing good work for the health and well-being of our children is nothing new for the Mendez Foundation. For more than thirty-five years, we've been developing and implementing prevention education programs K-12 that teach kids they are too good for drugs and violence. Our evidence-based, skill-building programs make a positive impact on the lives of students, teachers, parents, and community leaders nationwide.

    Charles E. Mendez established the C. E. Mendez Foundation in 1964 to support local charitable organizations serving underprivileged children and their families living in the Tampa Bay area. Following his death in 1967, Charles E. Mendez’s legacy and the Mendez Foundation were carried on by his family.

    In 1975, Charles E. Mendez, Jr., now President of the Foundation, grew concerned with the alarming growth of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use by young people. He refocused the Foundation's efforts to develop and deliver prevention education programs to address these substance abuse problems.  To that end, our own Prevention Specialists have been positive role models delivering Too Good for Drugs in Hillsborough County Public Schools since 1980.

    The Foundation's programs would be developed with this philosophy in mind: providing children age-appropriate, factual information about the negative health effects of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, combined with development of critical decision making and goal setting skills, delivered by professional educators who are positive role models, will result in better decision-making by our children.

    We also put our community stakeholder hats on when we put together fun, free family events like the Too Good for Drugs Walk and Kidfest and the I am Too Good for Drugs Junior Gasparilla Distance Classic events in Tampa.  Summertime in Tampa bridges the school years with the Summer Parks program in the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Centers.

    Our social emotional learning skills-based prevention programs soon gained national recognition, and our curricula are currently used by over 3,500 school districts, community agencies, and law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.

    As prevention educators, we have a professional commitment to the careful development, rigorous testing, and on-going refinement of our programs. As an organization, we have a time honored commitment to ready children for success in school and in their future careers. It's our purpose and our passion.

  • Benefits of Childhood Card Games

    Card games can be a beneficial means for children to build character, develop executive function skills, and learn healthy bonding norms. According to an article recently published in The Wall Street Journal, “card games can teach math and memory skills, as well as strategic thinking, psychologist and sociologists say.” Executive function skill development, such as working memory and strategic thinking, is fundamental to preparing children for successful academic life, as well as future employment.

    Families and schools who encourage children to engage in card games also establish healthy bonding norms. The Wall Street Journal says “the conversation and friendly rivalry that come with sitting down to play cards can strengthen family ties.” And children will mirror the healthy norms established in caregiver relationships as they socialize and form connections outside the family in their schools and communities.

    Defining strong character traits in children is another key component of playing games, as they “can build children’s confidence: The rules are the same for everyone, and it is fun to play a game in which anyone can win.” In family settings and school settings alike, card games can simulate real-life problem solving and strategizing, giving children the opportunity to face challenges in a controlled environment so they can take what they learn and apply it to their lives.

    It turns out there are multiple compelling reasons card games have prospered from one generation to the next. They bridge age gaps and social constructs, bringing children to an equal playing field, building problem solving skills and emboldening children with the confidence they need to face life’s challenges. Who would have thought a simple game of Go Fish could facilitate the foundational development needed for success in life? In the midst of fun and laughter, children gain the character and skills necessary for happy and healthy lives.

  • Childhood Self-Control Linked to Future Job Success

    According to a recent study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Sciences (APS), “children with high self-control — who are typically better able to pay attention, persist with difficult tasks, and suppress inappropriate or impulsive behaviors — are much more likely to find and retain employment as adults.” Learning such executive function skills early in life builds a foundation for future success.

    The APS study found adults who properly developed self-control early in childhood spent almost half as much time unemployed than those whose self-control was underdeveloped. This is a significant number to consider when one’s livelihood is on the line. Furthermore, those lacking in self-control who lost their jobs had a difficult time finding new jobs. APS says this could be due to a number of factors such as “a heightened vulnerability to stress due to unemployment, the adverse effect of prolonged career interruptions on skill development and a greater likelihood of falling into habits which hinder their chances of regaining employment.”

    The evidence is clear, but how can we help children develop self-control early in life? APS suggests school programs, as well as mindfulness exercises such as yoga or walking meditation. We can promote self-control practices by teaching children the tools they need to make responsible decisions and manage their emotions. Self-control is apparent in children who stop to think before they act or take a deep breath before expressing an emotion. Small gestures can go a long way in helping children establish healthy and confident behaviors.

    Children who develop these social emotional skill sets and who develop an eager readiness to learn are better prepared for success in school and beyond. Self awareness and self-control help facilitate in children a desire to make school a priority, and that attitude extends into employment when they grow into adulthood. It is crucial for children to learn these skills to prepare them forAnchor both short term and long term success.

    Early grade school is an effective age to begin implementing self-control practices, according to APS, so it is never too early to begin teaching children how to incorporate these practices into their daily lives. Early implementation also equips children with the tools they need for ongoing development as they continue to meet the challenges they will face as they grow older. Children who get a head start on these essential life skills are more likely to secure for themselves steady employment and therefore a flourishing future.