Monthly Archives: June 2015

  • Youth Nonviolence: The Path to a Peaceful Future

    Kids holding hand

    Keeping up with current events often means facing the grim reality of youth violence in our society. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2011, “32.8% of students had been in a physical fight one or more times during the 12 months before the survey” and “7.4% of students nationwide had been threatened or injured with a weapon.” These are alarming numbers to consider, ones that are difficult to ignore.

    The American Psychological Association outlines several motives for youth violence. Expression, manipulation, and retaliation are just some of those reasons. Perhaps most importantly, violence is a learned behavior. Youth who have not learned effective means of expression and who have been exposed to negative role modeling that normalizes violence as a means to resolve conflict are more likely to act on violent impulses. Youth exposed to the use of violence or aggression to resolve problems in the home  are more likely to adopt those norms to resolve their own problems. Furthermore, media and news events may perpetuate the normalization of violence as an acceptable means to resolve conflict.

    The road to mitigating conflict peacefully begins with youth learning healthy ways to express themselves. Youth who are able to identify and manage their emotions are better equipped to calm themselves down before anger or sadness begin to drive aggressive behavior. Likewise, these youth are more able to and more likely to then communicate what they are feeling with more peaceful results.They are also more likely to ask for help and to trust adults. Taking that a step further, youth who are able to identify the emotions of others are better able to prevent conflict by recognizing the circumstances that could result in a violent conflict and manage their own behavior accordingly. This awareness of self and others is a twofold approach for youth to practice pro-social bonding and to learn to differentiate between unhealthy and healthy relationship qualities.  Learning the difference between aggressive behavior and assertive behavior goes a long way in solidifying positive norms.

    If youth are not exposed to healthy role modeling in their homes, they may not know what makes for acceptable behavior. School is a place where they can learn essential social emotional skills, as well as find positive role models in their teachers and their peers. Activities that simulate real-life scenarios let youth practice the skills to identify and manage emotions, communicate effectively, and problem solve peacefully so they can ultimately assimilate those skills into their own lives.

    Violent acts happen, and  we cannot shelter youth from exposure to them. But youth equipped with strong social emotional skills and the ability to navigate relationships in healthy ways are more likely to apply prosocial solutions in the face of potentially violent situations.  With education, role modeling, and practice, youth can boldly embark on a path to a more peaceful future.

  • Early Learning Through Play

    Beautiful little kids playing with toy kitchen in the garden

    It’s that time of year when the days are growing longer and a trip to the beach may be on the horizon. The kids may be home for the summer, but they are learning essential skills even away from school. Amid sand castles and lemonade stands, the activities of child’s play continue the development of social emotional skills.

    Much research has been devoted to the study of early childhood learning through play, and the results show there is a wide spectrum of benefits. Children’s play is essential to the development of their social emotional and executive function skills in both the short and long-term.

    Pretend play with peers offers a particularly valuable element to social emotional learning.  It is most common for children ages 3-6 and involves taking on social roles and enacting narrative scripts.  According to Par Jane Hewes, PhD of the Early Childhood Learning Knowledge Center, pretend play “fosters communication, developing conversational skills, turn taking, and perspective taking, and the skills of social problem solving – persuading, negotiating, compromising, and cooperating.” Though children often create their own scripts, parents and caregivers can foster such creative play by organizing and encouraging children to participate in skits and role-plays that will aid them in working together while learning the skills they need for their future success.

    Peter K. Smith, PhD and Anthony Pellegrini, PhD in the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development report a hypothesis that “pretend play enhances theory of mind development. Theory of mind ability means being able to understand (represent) the knowledge and beliefs of others; that is, that someone else can have a different belief or state of knowledge from yourself.” This type of peer interaction helps children try on different roles and learn how to express themselves, which in turn develops an awareness of self and of others.  With such skills, children develop empathy for their peers that will nurture their ability to engage in healthy relationship patterns.

    Whether participating in play within a school environment, at home, or on vacation, young children are continuously developing fundamental skills through their activities.  Caregivers and educators can provide opportunities for children to explore their environments and relationships with their peers by fostering the prosocial peer bonding that will ready them for success in life.

    So when you are at the beach this summer, take a closer look at that sand castle or that popular lemonade stand.  The skills your children used to build them will be the skills they use to build their successful futures.

  • Student Happiness and GPA

    e6238f5a-9990-4238-ba38-ea2f57ffef13A recent study headed by Christina Hinton, Ed.D. at Harvard Graduate School of Education “found that from elementary school to high school, happiness is positively correlated with motivation and academic achievement.” The study measured student happiness against GPA and found happier students have higher GPAs.

    There are several ways we can cultivate student happiness. We can provide for them a safe environment where they in turn feel at ease exploring and learning. Once such an environment is established, students are more likely to forge meaningful relationships. According to Hinton’s study, bonding is an essential contributing factor to student happiness. Students “cited many reasons for their positive feelings, including feeling safe and comfortable at school and having secure relationships with their teachers and their peers.”

    Student feedback from Hinton’s study also reported that fun, positive feelings helped promote learning. Incorporating social emotional learning through interactive activities is a beneficial way for students to not only gain the opportunity for healthy bonding but also to have fun doing so.

    In practice, developing social emotional skills through cooperative learning designs, such as strategy games and role play, reinforces the concepts so students internalize what they learn.  Hands-on experience allows students to apply the skills, while paired and group activities encourage students to collaborate, make group decisions, develop relationship skills, and resolve conflict peacefully.  As a result, students develop a stronger sense of self-worth and self-efficacy to build the confidence that fuels academic success.

    Students who learn how to manage their emotions have the tools they need to cope with stress in a healthy manner. In the process of building these skills, students first learn to identify their own emotions; this is as simple as students learning to pay attention to the physical signals their bodies give them to indicate how they are feeling.  Then, students learn to recognize those signals in others. Activities that challenge students to “try on” a multitude of expressions help them connect how their own emotions physically feel with how those emotions appear on others’ faces.  Equipped to quickly recognize emotions in others, students learn to pause and consider their own feelings before they act and to develop empathy so they can react appropriately to the feelings of others.

    Teaching emotion management skills through interactive activities is a fun and effective way for students to learn to navigate their emotions and become more aware of self and others; both of which resolve stress and mitigate conflict. By building a safe and positive environment, as well as teaching the skills students need to bond with and relate to one another in a healthy way, students will be well on their way to academic success. It is no mystery why happy and healthy students make the grade.