“Thinkers? How about feelers, too?”
We have all 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? More A’s? In a day and age where bigger is almost exclusively marketed as better, one critical piece has gone missing: MORE emotional resilience. And they are surely going to need it to manage all of the ‘mores’ out there.
It may seem counterintuitive to many, but if we all stop for a moment (we being the adults with more on our minds), we will see that this heavy load today’s kids are carrying is not sustainable. Children, beginning when they are very young, need time and space to come back to center. Children in high school continue to need it as the pressures of school and extracurricular activities mount. But schools are leaving less and less time for anything outside of academic learning. Trends indicate that kids are not reaching their potential because learning is not meant to be linear or to have an end point. It is not singularly focused; the great philosophers knew that learning called for wider focus and time for rest and contemplation. Kids are burning out. Checking out. Tuning out. So what are we supposed to do with this information?
There is a growing body of research that states that we adults need to advocate for that time and space. We need to create places and programs in schools and out where kids can relearn how to handle their stress, so they can get back into 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 those unweildy emotions like fear, anxiety, competitiveness, stress, and the like, imagine the types of emotionally productive adults they will become! By allowing today’s student to be exposed to, and practice, various forms of accessible mindfulness, we are giving he and she 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 assist with helping 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 reframing negative thoughts (and what adolescent doesn’t need that?).
Let’s face it — when today’s kids come face to face with an adversary in a business meeting 20 years from now, it won’t matter much what grade they received on their 10th grade biology exam 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 needed to succeed in the world: more capacity to feel — and accept and manage — all of their emotions, more opportunities to build emotional intelligence, and the ability to pause before they respond.