In recent years, the theme of resilience has been frequently brought up to describe the response of many New Yorkers on September 11, 2001. In the midst of profound uncertainty and danger, the adults in schools in lower Manhattan had to make the ultimate decision of their careers as educators—saving the children, some as young as 4 years old, meant evacuating the schools and running to safety. Within hours of the terrorist attack, more than 5,000 schoolchildren and 200 teachers ran for their lives.1 Miraculously, though debris fell around them and confusion reigned, not a single student’s or teacher’s life was lost.
While certainly it could be argued that the teachers and children that day exhibited the inner resources they needed to survive, some wondered: What would it take to refill the emotional and spiritual reserve from which they had drawn so deeply? As the modern stresses of today’s childhood accumulate in children, how can we help them develop a reservoir of inner strength to draw from in every aspect of their daily 21st-century lives?
A growing body of research suggests that helping children develop good social and emotional skills early in life makes a big difference in their long-term health and well-being. In his groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence (published in 1995), Daniel Goleman summarized the research from the fields of neuroscience and cognitive psychology that identified E—emotional intelligence—as being as important as IQ in terms of children’s healthy development and future life success. He wrote:
“One of psychology’s open secrets is the relative inability of grades, IQ, or SAT scores, despite their popular mystiques, to predict unerringly who will succeed in life. … There are widespread exceptions to the rule that IQ predicts success—many (or more) exceptions than cases that fit the rule. At best, IQ contributes about 20 percent to the factors that determine life success, which leaves 80 percent to other forces.”2
Goleman’s work helped us understand the importance of emotional intelligence as a basic requirement for the effective use of one’s IQ—that is, one’s cognitive skills and knowledge. He made the connection between our feelings and our thinking more explicit by pointing out how the brain’s emotional and executive areas are interconnected.
We are learning from recent brain science that children’s brains go through major growth up until their mid-20s, and their neural circuits are shaped by the day-to-day experiences they have. Children who are well-nurtured and whose parents and teachers help them learn how to calm down when they are upset, for instance, seem to develop greater strength in the brain’s circuitry for managing distress and will be less likely to act on aggressive impulses…
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