Developing Children’s Social and Emotional Intelligence A PCR Pilot Program with the Institute for Girls’ Development

By PCR Principal, Karen Hurley

iPhone displaying iMessage conversation

Over time, Palm Crest - like other elementary schools -- has wrestled with the dynamics of how to help students navigate the challenges associated with their social world and learning how to effectively communicate needs in times of conflict.  Our district’s current program, Developmental Assets, identifies a set of 40 skills which guide students into becoming healthy, competent, caring adults.  In line with this, Palm Crest has become involved with the Stand Up! Speak Out!®. Melissa J. Johnson was brought in to lead three workshops for fourth graders. Below, in her words, is an explanation of the philosophy of the program, which builds on friendships, and some concrete tips valuable for kids and adults alike.

Stand Up! Speak Out!®
Helping 4th grade students at PCR develop their social and emotional intelligence
By Melissa J Johnson, PhD
Psychologist (PSY13102), CEO and Founder, Institute for Girls’ Development


“Mom, they’re teasing me!”  “Dad, they won’t let me play!” “Please don’t invite that kid to my party.”  Parents hear words like these every day.  How can we turn these frustrating challenges into golden learning opportunities to help our children develop their social and emotional intelligence?
As a former classroom educator and a clinical psychologist for 25 years I’ve worked with children, parents and school communities to enhance social and emotional learning. 
Every summer, through our Professional Training Institute, we provide courses on how to help children and teens navigate their social and emotional worlds. Last summer, Karen Hurley, Principal at Palm Crest Elementary (PCR), and Julia Lee, 4th grade teacher at PCR, joined a group of other educators and counselors to train in our Stand Up! Speak Out!® curriculum. The curriculum was originally designed to empower girls in their friendship skills, but we’re now piloting the program with boys.  So, when Mrs. Hurley invited us to come to Palm Crest this winter and lead 3 workshops for 4th grade students, we joined with our colleague Dr. Daniel Linscott, an expert on boys’ development.
We hear so much about the challenges kids face in their friendships, but whenever I’m working with educators and parents, I start with the positive stuff of friendship.  I invite parents and educators to shine the light on allies.  Whenever we see kids or teens working together, showing compassion, helping each other out, or cooperating, let’s celebrate it!  Comment out loud about their compassion and cooperation. We can also celebrate these qualities when we observe them in the movies, books or other media.
After we acknowledge the positive, we can talk about the challenges of friendships. These include miscommunications and misunderstandings, disappointments, physical or verbal aggression, or social aggression. Research indicates that both boys and girls engage in social and relational aggression – behaviors that are meant to hurt friendships and social standing. The behaviors can include exclusion, gossip, rumors, and rejecting body language like turning away and/or rolling one’s eyes.
A variety of skills, such as assertiveness, can help kids and teens navigate their social challenges. My favorite definition of assertiveness is “educating others on how you want to be treated.” When teaching students about assertiveness, we refer to it as Brave Talk for elementary school students and Straight Talk for middle and high school students.

Here are a few important things for children and teens to know about assertiveness. You can:
-      Be strong without putting others down
-       Be gentle but firm
-       Disagree with respect
-       Teach others how to treat you, using I statements
-       Educate others about kindness and respect
-       Avoid putdowns or attitude
-       Stand tall, making eye contact and telling the other person what you want

The Stand Up! Speak Out!® curriculum includes a variety of skits relevant to boys and girls.  The PCR students got to practice Brave Talk in the role of Target and as Bystanders, using role play by teachers and Stand Up! Speak Out!® facilitators.
Self-care skills help students deal with the big feelings that inevitably arise. What does your child do to calm after the friendship storm? The students identified calming activities, such as playing with their pets, playing their sport, writing, listening to music, or taking deep breaths.
The workshop sessions concluded with the students creating Keys to Friendship. On a keychain, students assembled colorful cards, each one naming one of the special skills they’d learned. The Keys to Friendship provide students with reminders in the classroom and at home of the variety of skills they may want to use to make their friendships better, solve conflicts, and take care of themselves.