Q: Is there a danger of teaching social and emotional issues to young children aged 4 to 7? I am wondering if they are developed enough to understand and isn’t there a danger of socializing impressionable minds and how do you teach when there are so many cultures in each class?
A: No danger, if done well – but great benefits. The best programs for young children in social and emotional learning, or SEL, are designed by child development specialists who know what is appropriate for each age. So during the 4-to-7 years, for instance, learning to delay gratification and not give in to every impulse (like hitting when you’re angry) is an essential lesson, particularly because the brain’s circuitry for managing impulse is going through a growth spurt just about then. And giving kids repeated lessons in what their brain is trying to master helps them strengthen that brain circuitry. Other key lessons for kids of that age include understanding how your own actions make other kids feel – that is, empathy; comprehending what your feelings are and what makes you feel that way; and how to work out disagreements in a positive way. All these lessons are invaluable for any child. But it’s important that they be given in a way that fits the child’s ability to understand at that age. So these same basic lessons need to be repeated in later years as a child’s cognitive abilities grow, in ways that fit their enhance understanding. The best guide to such well-designed SEL programs is at www.casel.org.