Ask just about any parent what he or she wants most for their child and you will likely hear something like this: “All I want is for him to be happy,” or, “I want her to feel good about herself.” The words may differ a bit, but virtually all parents want their children to grow up to be well adjusted people. What they may not realize is that social-emotional learning starts in preschool and becomes stronger every time it is reinforced by teachers and caregivers.
Not too long ago, I attended a conference about how to foster children’s social-emotional learning. This was an evidence-based, research-informed academic gathering of thought leaders from around the globe who had convened to learn more about how The Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education is working to “educate the hearts of children.” The discussions of the day yielded many thoughtful and interesting takeaways:
- Social-emotional skills truly matter. It is not only possible, but vitally important to foster our children’s inborn sense of empathy, kindness, compassion and generosity when they are very young and throughout their lives.
- “Education of the heart” can actually be treated and taught as an academic subject. In fact, it’s already being done and assessed in British Columbia’s classrooms – with measurable benefit. As one of the leading researchers in this space, education professor and Director of the Human Early Learning Partnership Kimberly Schonert-Reichl is making use of everything from biologic to neurologic tests to demonstrate that children who participate in social-emotional programs are “better positioned to succeed both in school and in life.”
- There are five qualities that support heart-mind well-being. Strong evidence-based research has identified five positive human qualities that are particularly important to our ultimate happiness and well-being: getting along with others, being compassionate and kind, solving problems peacefully, feeling secure and calm, and being alert and engaged. These traits remind me a lot of what preschool is all about.
I hope these insights leave you as motivated as I am about developing heart-mind well-being in myself and my own children. After all, in the words of the Dalai Lama, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”