Emotions and Behavior Management

This week, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars ceremony, after the comedian made a joke about his wife’s–Jada Pinkett Smith–alopecia. Although Smith has apologized for his behavior, it is not a good example of how we navigate our anger. In fact, it normalizes aggressive actions when we feel strong emotions. If you want to read more about this situation, check out Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s analysis. I’ve found it particularly insightful.

One of the reasons why I have dedicated my life’s work to Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is to help children and adults develop tools to better understand their emotions, so they can make constructive decisions in their lives. While Will Smith may not face any significant consequences for his actions, somebody else could face jail time for a similar behavior.

A big goal of SEL is building individuals’ capacity to integrate their thoughts, emotions and behaviors to accomplish important tasks in daily life. We know from the latest research in neuroscience that emotions are an integral part of the brain’s processes.

In a way, by teaching SEL we are helping students and adults use all the tools they already have, so they can pursue and accomplish professional and personal goals.

Emotions are involved in all major cognitive processes and serve several purposes. For instance, they:

  • Protect us from dangerous situations by firing up our internal alarm system

  • Help us make decisions by appraising different perspectives

  • Support effective communication by creating a connection with other people

  • Serve as a motivator to take action

As I explain in my book, Teaching with the HEART in Mind (Spanish version here), emotions also have a well-being purpose. That is, they allow individuals to experience and enjoy small and big moments in life and accomplish goals. In fact, Dr. Susan David, renowned psychologist and author of Emotional Agility, argues that the way we navigate our inner worlds–what she defines as our everyday thoughts, emotions, and self-stories–is the single determinant of life success.

At the core, SEL means understanding our emotions and having the HEART skills to name and process our feelings, solve conflicts and make amends when we hurt others. These HEART skills are learnable and can be developed over time through explicit instruction and supportive learning environments.

If you are looking for SEL training or implementation support, reach out! I’m currently booking engagements for the 22-23 school year and would love to support your efforts. 

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