The anxiety and social isolation caused by COVID-19, the dangerous viral challenges in social media, cyberbullying, school bullying, and many other situations, are real examples to which our children and young people are exposed, and these are on the rise. Today, more than ever, it is crucial that students develop, consciously and systematically, the socio-emotional skills they need to face the changing, uncertain and baffling circumstances they are experiencing today and the ones that will touch their adult lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic reaffirms the need to prepare students on how to manage their emotions. Staying at home and doing their studies, in the best of the cases by digital means, has already had emotional consequences for them. Dealing with the feelings of isolation, frustration, boredom, anxiety, or stress brings with it a response of hopelessness, depression, or even anger.
In this context, families must fulfill their work obligations, household chores, while supporting and supervising their children’s school activities, which they do not necessarily know how to do appropriately, causing them anxiety and stress. Meanwhile, teachers experience the impotence of not being close to the students, the anguish caused by not having the technological tools, or not knowing how to use them properly. This causes them the loss of being able to guide students through these difficult times.
When people develop emotional maturity, they are better equipped to adapt to new situations quickly; to overcome fear and the anguish caused by the breakdown of their routine, and to guide their energy to seek correct ways to deal with the current circumstances.
What are socio-emotional skills?
The development of socio-emotional skills has been the object of specialized study by psychologists, neuroscientists, and educators. The term “Emotional Intelligence (IE)” was first introduced by Mayer, J. D., and Salovey, P. (1997). They define it as the part of social intelligence that includes abilities to perceive, value, and express emotions precisely, to access or generate feelings that facilitate thought, to comprehend emotions, and regulate them, promoting emotional and intellectual growth. These capabilities are collectively called socio-emotional skills (interview with Marc Brackett, 2019).
“We need to develop the socio-emotional skills that students need in a consciously and systematically way, so they can get through difficult situations in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
To date, multiple research and papers have been published on socio-emotional skills and, along with them, the creation of instruments to measure them, as well as to design educational programs to develop them. From these needs arises a new field of study: socio-emotional learning (SEL) (Nathanson, L., Rivers, S. Flynn, L & Brackett, M. A. 2016; Malti, T & Noam, G. G. 2016).
It was not until 2016 that socio-emotional skills became part of elementary education curricula in Mexico, but it has been ratified in the current plans and curricula (Agreement number 07/06/17). Even so, teachers must refine the teaching strategies for their development, as well as publish their scientific research on the subject for Mexican populations. Therefore, this disciplinary field, new in our country, is open to interventions and research that equip the teachers with the knowledge they need.
Educational programs for developing socio-emotional skills
One of the educational programs that have had the most dissemination and application worldwide is that carried out by the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University. The RULER approach (formed by the acronym for Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, Regulate) has been implemented in many elementary and middle school schools with excellent results. This program is based on four simple tools that are implemented in the classroom, school, and home.
The RULER Anchor tools
The Charter for building emotional agreement
The Mood Meter for enhancing emotion skills
The Meta-Moment for responding to triggers with one’s “best self”
The Blueprint for reflecting on and resolving conflict
The primary interest of the Center for Emotional Intelligence is to support schools. Once the Ruler approach is understood, it is easily adaptable by almost any institution as long as the entire school community is aware of its usefulness (Brackett, M. A. Rivers, S., Reyes, M. & Salovey, P. 2012).
Another program that exists in Mexico for upper middle-school students is Construye T. Designed and developed with support from the United Nations Development Program and the Secretary of Public Education. This program is also easy to adapt to each campus and has been implemented in many schools. The content materials for students and teachers can be consulted onsite.
The decision to use any of the programs must come from the school community. All teachers, principals, administrative staff, and families must collegiately commit to their applications inside and outside the classrooms. When everyone understands the usefulness of implementing a program, it becomes easier for the students to experience its benefits daily. The emotional climate of the school is strengthened, and the people who make up the community become able to regulate their emotions.
Research conducted by Tec de Monterrey students
Below are the relevant results derived from research and interventions carried out by the students pursuing a master’s degree in Education at Tecnológico de Monterrey at different educational levels.
After a 25-session intervention for five weeks, “About 46% of the students, just two to three years old, could identify the four basic emotions, namely, joy, anger, sadness, and boredom, using toys made for this purpose and associating them with a specific sound. And 25% could mimic the emotion they saw in toys and gradually identify it in other peers. They started laughing more; the behavior of biting another partner was eliminated by 100%. Crying declined by 19% and screams by 12% because the infant-students began using oral language to express themselves, ask for help, and set limits. Hitting, mainly used as a means of setting limits, was also eliminated at 100%. Finally, there was a 71% increase in students setting limits through expressions such as ‘No,’ ‘Not so,’ and ‘That’s not nice.’ Similarly, there was a 35% increase in students who asked for help in resolving differences when dealing with others” (María Minerva Méndez Zarazúa, 2018). These achievements are impressive, considering that students were very young children.
“After one semester, second graders can name the emotions they feel, representing them with colors. During the activities, the students paid more attention, actively participating 100% during the times when they were sharing the learning. About 65% of the students intentionally modified attitudes or habits related to their learning. We succeeded in clarifying various concepts (goals, anger, joy, sadness, fear). In the activities done collaboratively, no incidents were reported by the work teams. One hundred percent of the students participated in the achievement of the goal or the objective to meet” (María José García López, 2019).
In a technological high school where students run the program Construye T, it was found that this program manages to increase the emotional intelligence of students, measured through the profile test of emotional competency (PEC). As the students advanced through their school curricula, it was observed that their abilities to perceive, comprehend, and control emotions increased. In the study, the sixth-semester students scored higher than the fourth and second-semester students. These capabilities are vitally important for the students to be able to adapt to their environments, and they contribute substantially to their psychological well-being and personal growth. This evidence demonstrates the efficiency of the program. The complete research is in the process of being published in an indexed journal.
These examples give us an idea of how valuable it is to invest time and effort in developing socio-emotional skills in children, adolescents, and young people. In the long run, we create happier adults oriented toward well-being. As adults, we can also use the tools and procedures of the RULER program to help us healthily regulate our emotions every day.
Once school attendance starts again with a “new reality,” it will be necessary to make additional efforts to fortify socio-emotional skills in students to reduce the burden of negative emotions caused by social isolation and the potential learning deficiencies they may have. It is essential to rebuild their trust and encourage them to take responsibility for self-care, which, among other factors, is part of emotional maturity, regardless of a person’s age.
About the author
Yolanda Heredia (email@example.com) is a research professor at the School of Humanities and Education. For over 20 years, she has advised on more than 40 master’s theses and 15 doctoral dissertations. She has published books, book chapters, and articles in peer-reviewed journals.
Brackett, M. A. Rivers, S., Reyes, M. & Salovey, P. (2012). Enhancing academic performance and social and emotional competence with the RULER feeling words curriculum. Learning and Individual Differences 22 (2012) 218–224. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2010.10.002
Diario oficial de la Federación. Ley General de educación. ACUERDO número 07/06/17 por el que se establece el Plan y los Programas de Estudio para la Educación Básica: Aprendizajes clave para la educación integral. Available at: http://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle_popup.php?codigo=5488481
García López, M.J. (2019). Desarrollo de habilidades socioemocionales en Educación Básica. Tesis de maestría.
Guimon, P. Entrevista a Marc Brackett. (2019). El País diario semanal. Available at: https://elpais.com/elpais/2019/02/21/eps/1550759747_675256.html
Mayer, J. D.-Salovey, P. (1997): What is emotional intelligence? En P. Salovey y D. Sluyter (Eds). Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Educators (pp. 3-31). New York: Basic Books.
Malti, T & Noam, G. G. (2016) Social-emotional development: From theory to practice, European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 13:6, 652-665, DOI: 10.1080/17405629.2016.1196178.
Mendez Zarazua,M.M (2018). Emociones para llevar. Tesis de maestría.
Nathanson, L., Rivers, S. Flynn, L & Brackett, M. A. (2016). Creating Emotionally Intelligent Schools With RULER. Emotion Review Vol. 8, No. 4 (October 2016) 1– 6 DOI: 10.1177/1754073916650495
SEP. (s/f). Programa de desarrollo socioemocional para la educación media superior ConstruyeT. Available at: https://www.construye-t.org.mx/que-debemos-hacer