Helping Students Build Emotional Intelligence and Resilience

April 3, 2023

Most parents have heard (and often heeded) the battle cries to give our children more: more time, more stuff, more whole foods, more activities, more everything. The call for more has jumped into the world of learning, as well. Do kids need more sciences? More computer skills? More testing? More tutoring? More AP classes? In a day and age in which bigger is almost exclusively marketed as better, one critical piece has gone missing: MORE emotional resilience. And students are surely going to need it to manage all of the "mores" out there.

If we stop for a moment (we being the adults with more on our minds), we will see that this heavy load that today’s kids are bearing is not sustainable. Children, beginning when they are very young and continuing into high school, need time and space to come back to center. But schools are leaving less and less time for anything outside of academic learning. Trends indicate that students are not reaching their potential because learning is not meant to be linear or to have an endpoint. It is not singularly focused; the great philosophers knew that learning called for wider focus and time for rest and contemplation. Students are burning out. Tuning out. Checking out.

So what should we do?

There is a growing body of research that states that adults need to advocate for the time and space that children need. We need to create places and programs, both in schools and out, in which students can relearn how to handle stress, so they can get back in the game. Mindfulness, emotional awareness, and breathing exercises are just the tip of the iceberg. If kids grow up learning that they can regain control over emotions like fear, anxiety, competitiveness, and stress, imagine the types of emotionally productive adults they will become. By allowing today’s students to practice various forms of mindfulness, we are giving them the less obvious but no less important tools for life’s toolbox. The capacity to successfully emotionally regulate creates self-awareness, which in turn can help children foster stronger face-to-face relationships with peers and teachers (no easy task in the digital age), empowering them to ask for help when they need it, express intellectual curiosity and joy in ways that create stronger and more productive bonds, and reframe negative thoughts (and what adolescent doesn’t need that?).

Let’s face it: When today’s kids face an adversary in a business meeting twenty years from now, it won’t matter much what grade they received on their tenth-grade biology test or if they ran the best time on the track team. What will matter is that we were thoughtful enough to give them more of what they actually need to succeed in the world: more capacity to feel, accept, and manage all of their emotions, the ability to pause before they respond, and more opportunities to build emotional intelligence and resilience.