A lot more effort needs to go into developing young people’s emotional and social skills, writes behaviour adviser Amanda Whitehead

My research on the role of emotional intelligence in shaping behaviour at school found that pupils who scored higher in emotional intelligence were less likely to have difficulties at school. Moreover, pupils who scored lower were more likely to have:

  • received a fixed period exclusion
  • been internally excluded
  • taken unauthorised absences from school.

Deviant behaviour

Currently, many schools regard emotional development as crucial to children’s academic and life success. A number of studies suggest that emotional intelligence is implicated in unacceptable behaviour at school.
On this basis, it seems reasonable to suggest that developing children’s emotional intelligence will help to develop a more inclusive environment and reduce the number of children at risk of disaffection.

Study

The study investigated the role of deviant behaviour at school, as measured by the:

  • Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)
  • Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire – CF (TEIQue-CF).

Additionally, the study explored the relationship between emotional intelligence and:

  • fixed period exclusion
  • internal exclusion
  • unauthorised absence.

The data was collated from a total of 15 primary and secondary schools in Suffolk and Essex. It involved 198 children aged eight-12 years and their form teachers.

Findings

What we found was that children who achieved high scores on emotional intelligence:

  • exhibited fewer negative behaviours and emotions at school
  • were less likely to let their difficulties interfere with their peer
  • relations and classroom learning
  • were less likely to experience and exhibit:
  • negative emotional symptoms
  • conduct problems
  • hyperactivity problems
  • problems with their peers
  • were less likely to have temper tantrums, lie and cheat and were generally obedient
  • were less distracted, more able to concentrate, stay on task and think things out before acting, than lower trait EI children
  • were more likely to have many friends to be liked by many children
  • were less likely to pick on or bully their peers
  • were rated by their teachers as being considerate of others’ feelings, sharing with other children, being kind to younger children, helpful if someone is hurt, and volunteering to help others.

Low EI

Children with low levels of emotional intelligence often complained of headaches, had many worries, were often unhappy, downhearted or tearful, were nervous or clingy in new situations and had many fears and were easily scared.

They seemed not to have developed effective coping strategies to help them deal with any school difficulties, classroom or peer problems that might arise.

Practice

I applied my knowledge of the research findings to developing the abilities of a group of primary school pupils to appraise, manage and regulate their own and others emotions. I did this by introducing:

  • a feelings diary
  • role-play
  • group discussion.

I also worked on appraisal, regulation and management of their own and others emotions. The activities involved:

  • analysing facial expressions
  • developing emotional vocabulary
  • reading non-verbal body language
  • heightening awareness of emotional triggers.

The work was carried out over two school terms and followed up during the intervention and completion of the programme by the school. The intervention resulted in improved classroom behaviour and peer relationships. In fact, one of the pupils now acts as a buddy for their peers. Sharing and applying the skills and strategies taught in helping them to deal with their school issues and become more emotionality literate.   

Inclusion

The fact that emotional intelligence is associated with a number of deviant behaviours, truancy and risk of exclusion should encourage educators to develop social and emotional programmes that enable and empower children to employ effective strategies and skills that prevent them from dealing adversely with their emotional and social difficulties in the classroom and everyday life.

It is also suggested that the sampling domain of emotional intelligence should be considered an essential component in designing, assessing and implementing a structured programme that aims to improve and develop children’s emotional and social skills and coping strategies in dealing with school and everyday life. It seems quite urgent to include emotional literacy as part and parcel of the national curriculum.

Conclusion

The research is currently being disseminated around schools in Suffolk. It is hoped that, in future, some of the children identified as being at risk of exclusion and having low levels of emotional intelligence will be offered opportunities to develop their emotional literacy, with positive repercussions for their academic learning, experiences and life satisfaction.