New York Knicks star Amar'e Stoudemire will be sitting out Thursday's playoff against the Miami Heat, and it is his own fault. Stoudemire decked a fire extinguisher in frustration after Monday's Game 2 loss. In the heat of the loss, Stoudemire was only expressing an emotion that thousands of fans were feeling at that same time. Unfortunately, his momentary loss of control resulted in an injury requiring stitches and the possible end of his season.
When any of us lose control – whether we are playing sports, disciplining our children, or driving in heavy traffic – we are unable to see the consequences of our actions. There is a reason why we call rage blind.
We all lose it and wish we could step back just a split second and do or say things differently. Sometimes, the consequences when we pull a proverbial trigger in anger or fear are small and seem insignificant. Sometimes they are huge and quite literally life-changing. The good thing is that we can all learn to control the impulses that drive us off the rails and put us in danger.
There is growing evidence that these skills, broadly called social-emotional learning, can be taught successfully in schools, and that there is a long-term benefit to teaching them. Social emotional skills involve things like understanding what we are feeling and why, learning to manage those emotions, developing concern and empathy toward others, thinking before we act, and handling challenging situations constructively.
The non-profit Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is just one of many organizations doing great work to help adults and children learn these valuable skills. Among other things, the organization has created guidelines for how to select materials and curricula to use in every type of classroom. They maintain a list of excellent resources and have also published a review of more than 80 curricula that are useful to both parents and teachers who care about these issues.
CASEL and other organizations have found that schools can effectively teach children as young as preschool age to calm themselves when angry, resolve conflicts respectfully, and make ethical and safe choices. The reasons to teach these skills are simple. First because they make our schools safer. Second because they help our students learn more.
Students with social-emotional skills earn higher grades and score higher on standardized tests. They also feel more connected to their schools and peers, have more positive attitudes toward themselves and others, have fewer disciplinary problems at school and are less likely to engage in dangerous behaviors like abusing drugs or alcohol or unprotected sex, according to the Committee for Children, a non-profit that has worked with more than 9 million children in 26 countries to prevent violence and promote positive behavior.
In 2011, the Journal of Child Development published a large-scale study analyzing the effect of teaching social-emotional learning in more than 200 schools. Looking at more than 270,000 K-12 students, researchers found that students who studied these types of skills were significantly better at managing their emotions and getting along. They were less stressed as well, and their schools had fewer behavioral problems. Schools that taught social skills saw a 44 percent decrease in suspensions, and a 27 percent decrease in the need to undertake other formal disciplinary actions. The researchers also found that students who studied social emotional skills scored an average of 11 percentage points higher on measures of academic achievement than their peers.
The research also shows that having higher emotional competence and health is a good predictor of higher standardized achievement tests scores in both sixth grade and at age 16. In fact, being competent and confident emotionally has a greater positive affect on achievement scores than having cognitive ability. It would be one thing if these results just came from a handful of cases. But these facts represent hundreds of long-term observations and more than twenty years of examining what happens when students learn to get along.
We all get frustrated and lose our temper. But we can also learn to regain our composure, thereby preventing a loss of control from potentially sabotaging ourselves in high stakes situations. It is never too young to start learning this lesson.