School staff member helping children address emotions

Published: December 20, 2021 3:43 PM EST
Updated: December 20, 2021 7:51 PM EST

One school staff member is working to prevent mental health issues by addressing students’ emotions early on. But is it working?

It was an exciting day for Alice Lee and her daughter Madison, as they enjoyed snowfall at school. But earlier that morning, it started a little bit rough.

“So, went to the fridge, got the egg, dropped it on the floor. Okay, plan number two, French toast, and then we burn the toast. So it would just not a great morning,” said Lee.

But Madison, pigtails and all, was able to show her emotional maturity in the face of adversity. “‘You are a good mom. You’re just having a very rough morning. Take a deep breath and let those big feelings out,'” is what her daughter said to her. She acknowledged her feelings and let them go.

Amy Quinn is a mom of three young children. But that doesn’t mean every parenting moment is beautiful. “What I found has really helped me in those moments when I’m struggling is the knowledge that I have as a therapist,” Quinn said.

“We just have so much knowledge about the brain and about our how we function and how our brain works,” said Quinn. Along with that knowledge as a therapist, plus he personal experiences, Amy and her husband, John, wanted to help.

Now, Quinn is the executive director of Fountain. And, she and her husband decided to endow a position dedicated entirely to mental health at CSN. Natalie Donahue is the social emotions learning specialist at the Community School of Naples (CSN).

Since August, Donahue has worked with Madison and her kindergarten classmates at the Community School of Naples. She’s been teaching students to be self-aware, manage emotions and build relationships. This is called social-emotional learning or SEL.

“If students get lessons in the classroom as a whole, as a proactive measure, to have skills for daily challenges, that they’ll be less need for mental health therapy in the future,” Donahue said.

Another benefit of SEL is better grades. A study looked at 270,000 kindergarteners to high schoolers in schools that taught SEL. Not only did these students have better behavior and emotional skills, they saw an 11% increase in achievement.

“The idea with SEL is that if students get lessons in the classroom as a whole as a proactive measure, to have skills for daily challenges, that there’ll be less need for mental health therapy in the future.,” said Donahue.

“The idea of emotional intelligence is something that we know employers need to have in the workplace. So we want to start as soon as possible,” Donahue said.

Teaching kids is only one part of the equation, though. Teaching parents how SEL works is the other. “We’ve done raising responsible and emotionally healthy children, understanding brain development, we’re going to do a deep dive into technology and digital distress,” said Donahue.

“My husband and my daughter were at this parade, Christmas parade, he was getting a little bit stressed out,” said Quinn, ”

Lee has taken each parent workshop that CSN has offered. She says these workshops have helped. “I’ve definitely seen a change in her behavior after the workshops, and she’s so… so much more expressive of herself,” she said. “And she said, ‘Daddy, let me show you some techniques to help you calm down.'”

Charlotte, Collier and Lee County schools have resources for emotional learning on their websites. Both Lee and Collier have counselors and psychologists who incorporate SEL into their teachings.

If you missed WINK News’ special “Mental Health: Your Mind Matters,” you can watch it below. We’ve also shared resources if you’re looking to get help.