BUENOS AIRESEmotional education is a teaching concept that helps students learn self-awareness (recognizing their emotions) and self-regulation (managing their emotions).

While employed by some teachers to help children to gain more confidence and learn more efficiently, "educación emocional" has recently become so popular among educators in Argentina that a debate has been opened up about whether to officially incorporate it into the national school curriculum.

“We don’t talk about this.”

Boys don’t cry.”

“Nothing happened."

"It’s for adults to talk about...”

Eliminating these kinds of outdated expressions is the first step that Emotional Education recommends. The idea is to talk about everything, cry if necessary – give schoolchildren the tools to express their emotions, understand them, value them and self-regulate them.

Emotional Education is an approach linked to the notion of emotional intelligence, a concept popularized in 1983 by American developmental psychologist Howard Garner with his book Frames of Mind: The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences and in 1995 by American psychologist Daniel Goleman with his best-selling book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. According to them, a person’s success depends not only on traditional types of intelligence, but also on emotional and social intelligence.

However, in later years, this school of thought has become less popular. Even though it has been updated to reflect the modern world, many experts say that the concept is more suited to the 19th and 20th centuries, and does not reflect the needs of young people in the 21st century. For instance, there is one issue that is sometimes overlooked – the fact that each individual brings with him or her the emotional baggage accumulated from birth. “We are integral beings. If a boy lives in a violent environment at home and is frustrated because of it, it will be hard for him to concentrate and study,” says Cecilia Gomez, Clarin’s education and psychology specialist.

A boy with attention deficit disorder or who is withdrawn, violent, flunks school or has behavior problems, carries a huge bag of raw emotions. Providing children with the necessary tools to cope with their feelings, value them, understand them, and express them is the key to emotional education. “When students faced with a difficulty throw tantrums or are paralyzed, it is necessary to provide them with a range of options and alternative solutions,” says Gomez.

Patterns that will shape adulthood

Valentina Gelardi, project director for the Anglo-German Konrad Lorenz School in Mendoza Province, Argentina, said that it is important to “consider the development of a person in its whole – biological, psychological, emotional, social – instead of just the traditional intellectual sense.”

According to experts, emotionally intelligent students are happier, more committed to learning, are more self-confident and have better relationships with their peers and adults. Laura Oros, PHD in psychology, professor and researcher from the Adventist University of Plata in Entre Ríos says: “Certain positive emotions such as joy, sympathy and gratitude inhibit aggression, prevent peer rejection, favor assertive responses and improve stress response. When these emotions have not been sufficiently developed because of different circumstances such as poverty, sickness, family conflicts, they can be strengthened through intervention. It is fundamental that stimulation begins at an early stage, as early on, we notice patterns that will shape adulthood.”

Because of the relentless activism of specialists, teachers and administrators, the concept has already been integrated – more or less officially – in most Argentine schools.

According to Oros, “There are many teachers who have spontaneously decided to implement strategies to reduce episodes of aggression that occur in the classroom and increase student interest. Many of these practices are based on previous experiences or common sense, and, although generally successful, they do not fully grasp the theoretical and psychological mechanisms by which this approach works.”

“Furthermore, since it is all done informally, this prevents other teachers from replicating what has been done in similar situations,” adds Oros.

This should soon be resolved when the policy becomes official. The province of San Juan is expected to be the first Argentine province to incorporate the emotional education concept into its school curriculum.