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Is there a "Dangerous" Rise in Therapeutic Education for Children?

By Yvette Vignando - 29th September 2010

A book published by two Oxford Brookes University academics suggested that a rise in “therapeutic education” in schools could be a bad development. The book is called The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education. If I can obtain a copy, I may review it on this website in the near future. Apparently the book criticises school lessons that contain “social and emotional” content on the basis that these lessons may turn children into introverted, self-obsessed people who can not take criticism.

Now, please bear in mind that I only read about the book in an online Daily Mail article, so I realise that this reports only a summary of the book. I’m sure (or maybe hopeful) that the authors of the book don’t condemn all social and emotional education. After all, a degree of personal development and social skills education has been part of most curricula in schools for some time now.

Although I disagree with the suggestion apparently made in this book, I admit that it raises some interesting points. Yes, we do have to be careful as parents and teachers not to suggest that having emotional intelligence means children become “emotional, vulnerable and hapless individuals”. In fact, when I teach adults about emotional intelligence, I always stress that it does not mean “being more emotional”.

Emotional intelligence is not about being vulnerable, but it does require a degree of self-awareness, and a willingness to use the information from our emotional reactions in an appropriate way. Some children can get excited without destroying a classroom and some haven’t learned that skill yet. Some children can tell another child that they are annoyed without injuring them and some can’t control themselves well enough yet. Other children can notice they’re feeling defensive about criticism or feedback but learn to be open to listening and improving. There’s nothing ‘hapless’ about those important skills.

One of the authors is also quoted as saying “Children are told to build their self-esteem and confidence before learning, instead of learning from the outer world and gaining confidence that way”. This statement is a totally wrong representation of the most successful and evaluated social and emotional learning programs in schools.

Just one example of such a program is at Lexington Elementary School in the US where implementation of a social skills and emotional skills curriculum is reported as having changed the school’s outcomes significantly. From a school with a worrying number of suspensions, low attendance rates and low standardised test scores, Lexington has gone on to achieve the highest nationally normed test scores in its district, as well as the highest teacher and student attendance.

If you want to read more case studies, take a look at the CASEL website .

I appreciate the discussion that this kind of book generates but hope parents will judge the value of teaching social skills and emotional skills on the evidence – and there is plenty of evidence demonstrating a link between what is known as higher levels of emotional intelligence skills and academic success. And, just ask any employer about the skills they most value in their employees and you will get an answer that confirms the importance of social and emotional education.

image freedigitalphotos.net by br3akthru

Comments (1)

CathyCorcoran's picture

Pressed my buttons

This piece really pressed my buttons. Not from what you are saying but what the book is suggesting. Im not saying it is all wrong but I have two issues I have concern with.
The statement “Children are told to build their self-esteem and confidence before learning, instead of learning from the outer world and gaining confidence that way”. is ridiculous as you pointed out. It unbelievably reinforces the notion that we must seek approval from the "outside" in order to be happy and have self acceptance. Totally wrong. My whole focus when working with children is giving them that strength to believe in themselves, that they know best and as my mantra states- om mani padme hum - answers are within. We tell our children dont listen to what other people have to say, you do what is right for you, yet this book reinforces the opposite. Why would you want your child or student to take on some dysfunctional stereotypical behaviours when "learning from the outer world"?
I also believe it brings up the usual - chicken or the egg debate. Who says these children aren't already sensitive new age souls and we are parenting and teaching according to what they are presenting? Our methods may have had to change for them and not the other way around. Personally I know i am parenting a whole lot differently than I thought I would be as I know it is best for my children and yes it is more emotionally related and confidence building strategies.
Thank you for sharing. I'll get off my box now =)

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