South Orangetown Central School District

On November 13, SOCES PTA hosted a Parent Chat on emotional intelligence with school psychologists Brian Galvin, Sean Jones, Linda King, Dr. Kaitlin McSwiggan at William O. Schaefer Elementary School. The topic is connected with work at both WOS and Cottage Lane Elementary School in partnership with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

More than 30 parents and guardians attended the morning event at WOS and gained insight into how our elementary schools are implementing the Yale Center’s RULER approach to emotional intelligence. “There are a lot of skills that go into emotional intelligence,” explained Dr. McSwiggan. “RULER is an acronym for the five key skills: Recognizing emotions in ourselves and others; Understanding the causes and consequences of our emotions; Labeling to build students’ vocabulary for describing their emotions; Expressing emotions in ways that are productive and appropriate for a given time and place; and Regulating with strategies to manage feelings.”

Through the RULER approach, students learn that how they behave impacts others around them and may influence how others feel and whether or not they feel comfortable around them. “With kids, we tend to skip right to trying to get them to regulate their emotion,” noted Mr. Galvin. “But kids have to understand what they’re feeling in order to regulate those feelings. They need to separate behavior from emotion.“

At both WOS and CLE, teachers are using the Mood Meter, a visual tool to support the RULER approach. Students are taught to reflect on how they’re feeling by identifying with one of four colors, based on energy level and feeling of pleasantness. “There are 2,800 emotion words.Instead of having young children try to find words when they’re feeling emotions intensely, the Mood Meter is helpful,” said Dr. McSwiggan. “Then we start connecting mood with how it feels in their bodies.”

Mr. Jones visits CLE classrooms to talk with kids about how they see themselves on the Mood Meter and whether that matches with their behavior. “A student may say that he feels ‘green,’ which represents low energy but feeling good/ pleasant emotions, but he’s bouncing around the room, chatting with friends, which suggests that they’re in the ‘yellow’, which represents a high energy level and pleasant emotions” he explained. “So we work on reflecting and refining their understanding of how they feel and whether or not that understanding matches their actual body language and behavior.”

The school psychologists emphasize that feelings aren’t bad, it’s how students behave when they have those feelings that may be good or bad. “Emotions are places you visit, you don’t live there. It’s important to let kids know that our emotions are always changing based on what’s going on around us, “said Mr. Galvin.

Teaching students how to transition is part of the RULER approach. “At school, you mostly want to be ‘green’ or ‘yellow’–high energy, feeling good. If that’s not how you’re feeling, what kind of strategies do we need to move from this place to that place?”

One of the most effective strategies? Mindfulness. “We’ve done a lot of work with the Mood Meter this year and with mindfulness,” noted Mrs. King, who led parents in a belly breathing exercise. “Close your eyes and place one hand on your belly, one hand on the your. Inhale deeply. Exhale slowly, so that it takes longer than the inhale. Focus on your breath and don’t let other thoughts interrupt you.”

After several breaths, Mrs. King repeats a mantra: “May I be calm, may I be relaxed.” She recommended practicing belly breathing at bedtime. “Make it a daily practice and they’ll internalize and use it,” she advised.

Tips for Families

  • Help your child become better at expressing their emotions. When you’re reading a book together, point out when a character has a strong emotion. Have a discussion about what the emotion is, what the behavior is and how the behavior affects those around them. Also, point out and talk about the body language of the character, which gives clues to the way that character is feeling.
  • Validate what your child is feeling and name what is going on. Narrating your own emotions can help model this skill: “I feel my face getting how and my chest tightening. I know I’m getting angry because I’ve asked you to stop [behavior] and you’re not listening.” Let them know that they aren’t alone; others have this feeling, too.
  • De-escalate in the moment. Stop the yelling. Taking a break from a situation–rather than punishment–can be all that’s needed for kids (and parents) to regain emotional control. For example: “How you’re behaving right now isn’t acceptable and you need a break. Go to your room and when you’re able to settle down, come back down and we’ll talk about how we can do this differently.”
  • Distraction is effective in the short term. Redirecting younger children can help get their mind off an issue temporarily. Revisit the issue once they’ve calmed down.
  • Reinforce appropriate behaviors. When your child uses an effective behavior to express an emotion–such as using words when she’s angry instead of throwing toys–reinforce with praise.
  • Model appropriate emotional reactions and problem solving. Parents are the first and most influential behavioral and social emotional models in a child’s life. If they observe you using successful and appropriate strategies to cope with strong feelings, they will begin to internalize those same strategies.
  • Have conversations about what your children’s triggers are and work with them on strategies to plan ahead. If there’s an argument every time your children get in the back of the car, how can you pre-game that?
  • Allow them to feel strong emotions. “We’ve gotten into a bad pattern where we don’t allow our kids to deal with adversity,” observed Mrs. King. “It’s OK for kids to be sad and it’s important that they experience all feelings. It’s OK to cry. It can be really hard for parents to just listen, but that’s what we need to do. Once your child is done expressing his feelings, THEN problem-solve together.”