A school environment in which children act respectfully towards each other, communicate feelings effectively, openly display empathy and celebrate individuality is a foundation for joyful learning, healthy friendships and academic success. Just as core academic subjects require experiential learning and daily practice to achieve mastery, communication and social skills also need to be explicitly taught and practiced in a safe, nurturing environment. To become truly skilled takes patience and a defined method practiced by an entire school community. Irvine Hebrew Day School (IHDS) uses an approach called Positive Discipline in which children are taught to identify complex emotions and cope with them productively.
Emotional articulation and self-awareness also connects directly to academic learning as students develop the skills to analyze emotional conflicts in literature and explore how one might solve a similar problem. Essentially, when “Common Core” education is properly implemented, this is what it looks like.
One morning, I witnessed a student having a difficult transition to school. As adults we often feel compelled to swoop in and fix our childrens’ problems. However, I had faith in this child’s abilities, and as he wrote about his emotions in his Feelings Journal, I gently stepped forward to validate his feelings…but before I had the chance, another student went to comfort him. She gave her classmate some “tips” on how to deal with missing his mommy, offered a hug and invited him to play.
If we are to build a compassionate society, we must provide the tools necessary to achieve it.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explores the active emotional engagement required for true Chesed (translated as Kindness) in a way that resonates with the practices of Positive Discipline: “Chesed exists only in virtue of emotion, empathy and sympathy, feeling-with and feeling-for. We act with kindness because we know what it feels like to be in need of kindness…Chesed requires emotional intelligence.” (To Heal a Fractured World). Positive Discipline teaches the foundational emotional intelligence necessary for true Acts of Kindness. Our children, therefore, respond to emotions with reflection, a sense of curiosity and positive deeds.
What if hugs could solve our problems? Let us guide our children to find out. _
Tammy Keces is a contributing writer to Kiddish Magazine.