Should Child Care Centers Close in the Wake of the Coronavirus?

By Michelle Salcedo, M.Ed., author of Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior: Create Responsive Environments Where Young Children Thrive

Should Child Care Centers Close in the Wake of the Coronavirus?Across the country, child care centers are faced with an excruciating decision: stay open and risk a possible outbreak of COVID-19, or shut the doors and leave children and families without the care they need and teachers without steady employment. In unprecedented situations like the one we are facing now, there are no easy answers. At this point, most states are leaving the decision up to individual centers. And in making the decision for a center, there are many factors management need to weigh. Top of mind are the needs of three important groups.

Families

Even as many businesses temporarily shutter and others mandate that employees work from home, there will still be people who need to report to work and need care for their children. Often, the people who most need child care are those in vital roles of service, including medical staff, retail workers, and those who care for other vulnerable populations. With a society that is increasingly mobile, many families find themselves without a social safety net of care in a time of need. Those people count on the safe and reliable care of their neighborhood child care center.

Teachers

It is no secret that child care teachers are paid much less than they are worth. Those who care for, love, and educate our nation’s children deserve to make millions of dollars. But the truth is that many live paycheck to paycheck. And those paychecks are dependent on the tuition that families pay for their children’s care. If centers close, there is no money with which to cover teachers’ salaries. By staying open, centers are providing thousands of teachers with the means to pay their rent and put food on their tables.

Children

Finally, but by no means least important, is the fact that by staying open, centers are providing an invaluable service to the children in their care. In times of uncertainty, children need high-quality and consistent care. They need the reassurance of the warm comfort of beloved caregivers and familiar routines. When centers close and families are forced to seek care elsewhere, children may experience additional stress in an already stressful time.

Just because a center is staying open, it does not mean that they are not taking seriously the risk that COVID-19 presents to a community. Most are taking special precautions to safeguard children and staff while the threat is active. These include limiting the people who come and go in centers, increasing sanitizing and cleaning, screening children and staff as they enter, and supporting children, families, and staff in keeping themselves healthy.

No matter what decision a center makes, clear and consistent communication is so important. A center should communicate regularly about updates and timelines. They can also provide at-home learning activities for children and keep in touch with families to provide them with resources on supporting their children through these challenging times.

Coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak usually includes the word unprecedented, and there is no better word to discuss what is happening in the world right now. As a human society, we are facing a threat unlike anything in the past. We don’t know what is going to happen, but there is one thing we do know, and it’s a message we can pass on to children:

We will get through this. We do not necessarily know what the other side looks like, but we will emerge into it. We are all in this together, and if we can be kind, compassionate, and patient with one another, we will be okay.

Michelle SalcedoMichelle Salcedo, M.Ed.,has worked in the field of early childhood for over 30 years, starting as a “teacher’s helper” in her younger brother’s center. She has served as a teacher, director, trainer, and family educator in numerous child care settings across Michigan, South Carolina, and Spain. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina.

Uncover the Roots of Challenging BehaviorMichelle is the author of Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior: Create Responsive Environments Where Young Children Thrive.


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Providing a School Counseling Practice from Home

By Stephanie Filio

Providing a School Counseling Practice from HomeIn the shocking midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are left wondering what life might be like interacting with the rest of society from a distance. Health concerns aside, in our hyperconnected way of life, it is almost equally frightening to try to picture a world with reduced interaction and movement. In this, the education system is being rocked to its core, leading many to wonder if we have established an industry strong enough to instruct students from afar.

Though I’ve always known my division in Virginia Beach, Virginia, rocks, I have an even stronger appreciation for many of the processes that are provided to us for daily use already. As I plan ahead for the weeks to come, I am finding that the practices we use are proving to make a smoother transition in emergency situations. From one-to-one electronic devices to online classrooms using Schoology, our students are equipped to learn from home when necessary.

However well-equipped your division is to handle diverse and taxing situations, this crisis is undoubtedly going to transform how we all do things in education and help us see what works and what doesn’t—not only for now, but also for the future. We will be able to collect data on those divisions that can continue to serve their students from home and find out what academic methods are so tried and true that they can find success under any circumstances.

Evaluating the Situation

Following the Virginia governor’s call to close schools, my students will be home for a minimum of two weeks. The best part of a school counselor’s position is the face-to-face interaction with the students on our caseloads; we are there to respond to emotions and crises, putting out fires as they arise. Many of my colleagues have been asking how we will do our job remotely without physical students for an extended period of time.

The typical day of a school counselor includes meetings, requests for schedule changes, and student interactions. I worry about my students who are suffering from mental health difficulties, specifically as many of them have reduced access to the triage mental health support we provide in schools. I worry about my students who are making strides with academics and attendance and may now fall considerably behind without the support of their cheerleaders and instructors. I worry about my students who rely on mentorship within the schools to remain cool and calm in the face of heightened emotions. I worry about my students who need food, consistent shelter, and the safety of time away from home.

At the end of the day, I am trying to continually remind myself that this is new for everyone. In the days following the announcement of the school closures, our school and senior leadership were still organizing a plan of action for reaching students. We are all called upon. Because of how the educator’s mind works, we are all putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect and find no gaps in learning through it all. This is not only impossible, it may also be creating severe anxiety in a population of professionals that base much of their life’s purpose on serving others. We are all going to try our best, but we have no control over the situation, and no one really knows what will be effective in such a crisis.

To begin my own personal look into what I imagine I can do from home, I have decided to begin by reevaluating how I spend my time in my comprehensive office on a normal day. In doing so, I am hoping I will be able to translate typical duties of responding to concerns of students, parents, and staff into digital action. Though the order of frequency might change from day to day, reoccurring tasks I see in my daily ledger include student check-ins, student visits, conferences with parents and/or students, consulting with teachers, 504 meetings and prep, student crisis consultations, parent phone calls, schedule changes, discipline meetings, and mediations.

Making a Plan and Setting Goals

Based on my evaluation, I know I can alter some daily tasks to achieve from home or the office—without students in front of me. From this list, I can set some attainable goals and tasks for myself to create a daily plan for the next two or more weeks. Everyone’s list will look different, depending on what specific needs are in your division. My list is:

Section 504 updating. I have about six 504s left for the year. Once I identify who is not in an eligibility year, I can reach out to parents to evaluate and discuss accommodations and updates. For those in eligibility, I can prep the materials and reach out to parents for tentative dates, or possibly hold digital consultations with the team.

Check in with frequent-flier students. Using my day planner and focus group, I will identify students that might need a check-in. This might include a simple “How are you?” or might be a time to supply some resources that can be accessed at home. There are also some reminders for students with individualized therapeutic plans that I can send so that the student will remember to apply these strategies at home too.

Touch base with parents who have scheduled parent-teacher conferences. I have several parent-teacher conferences in the next couple weeks that will need to be rescheduled. As we wait to find out how the quarter will be adjusted, I don’t want my students to find themselves in a “too little, too late” situation. I will reach out to each parent who scheduled a conference and include all the student’s teachers in an email. I can then ask all teachers to “reply all” (to include the parent) to give a specific plan of action for makeup work the student can do in conjunction with the current work being assigned online.

Identify academically underachieving students. I plan on going through my caseload and pausing to evaluate students who are struggling with their grades. Once I look through students’ coursework, I can email parents and ask that they look at their parent apps to ensure their children complete any makeup work while at home. This is my go-to during extended snow closures. Students return to school saying, “Mrs. Filio! I can’t believe you emailed my mom! She grounded me the whole second week!” . . . which is all the data I need to keep it up!

Provide SEL lessons. By using resources online and creating digital lessons, we can provide our students with some recommendations for how to remain healthy at home. There is no doubt that the imagery, fear, and eerily sterile environment are creating anxiety and stress in the lives of our young people. They badly need lessons on mindfulness, reasoning, and self-care. There are many mini lessons that parents can lead at home if they are home from work. Here are a few places to start:

Remain available. This is obviously the most important thing you can do and requires a small subset of goals. I have access to students through our online application, but I also plan to remain vigilant through email to respond to students, parents, and staff. Ways I hope to be able to serve include:

  • Ensuring emails are answered quickly and communication chains with group emails are created through Outlook or our school’s main application for online learning.
  • Reminding parents that students know more about electronics than we do, and that students have been well trained in class for online classroom and application use. In short, “Don’t believe your child when they say they don’t know how to do it.” Would you believe that my own eighth grader tries this on me at home?!
  • Being a liaison between families and teachers when a parent shows concern about computer or internet accessibility at home. If a parent contacts me to let me know they do not have a computer, but they do have a smartphone, I can reach out to our computer specialist or the student’s teacher to help provide a workaround.
  • Providing teachers with any support they might need to check in with idle parents and students.
  • Documenting all parent communication on our student information system so that when I return to school, the worlds between this crazy time and getting back to school can be bridged.

Returning to School

Returning to school is going to be the game changer. To be honest, I am anxious just thinking about how it will feel, mainly because this situation is so different from anything we’ve ever experienced. The unknown is overwhelming. In order to rest my own worries, I plan on spending a large part of the next two weeks planning for what I can do in the days and weeks after we return to school. I want to help students quickly feel security and safety in our hallways.

This has been my mental process for planning ahead in the face of the great unknown. It will no doubt change as time moves on. The best thing we can do as a community is share with each other our strategies so that we can have one big professional brainstorm! As always in the educational world, we are truly all in this together . . . even if from our homes.

Stephanie FilioStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.


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Words for the Absolutely Incredible Kid in Your Life

By Allison Amy Wedell

Words for the Absolutely Incredible Kid in Your LifeAs someone who makes her living by writing, one of my favorite sayings is, “Words mean things.” That’s a rather glib way to convey the immense power of words, whether written or spoken. Words have the power to help or hurt, to make us laugh or cry. That power is especially important when there are kids in your life.

This is most often manifested in situations like that one time you let the f-word drop in front of your toddler, who goes on to gleefully repeat it in front of, say, her visiting grandparents or your boss. Extrapolating from your tone of voice and the situation in which you uttered it, your adorable kiddo knew it was a powerful word—hence trotting it out in polite company, to your likely mortification.

But sometimes you say the wrong thing and it’s not so funny. Maybe you lose your temper about grades or chores or friends and say something to your child that you shouldn’t. And no matter how much you apologize for it, no matter how much you wish you hadn’t said it, he still remembers it. Because it was powerful. Because words mean things.

So maybe this March 19, we can use our words for good. Why that date in particular? Because March 19 is the 23rd annual Absolutely Incredible Kid Day. It’s when we adults write to the Absolutely Incredible Kid(s) in our lives to tell them how absolutely incredible they are. It is, as the day’s founder, Camp Fire, puts it, “a simple, meaningful way to let young people know how much they are appreciated.”

Now, if you’re anything like me, the idea of writing something like this to your kiddo is incredibly daunting, because your kiddo deserves the best and so your message has to be perfect. (Have you ever heard that saying, “Perfect is the enemy of good”? I should probably have that tattooed on the back of my hand so I can see it while I type.) Fortunately, Camp Fire has foreseen that very issue and offers tons of tips and examples to get you started.

But I can’t very well ask you to write to the Absolutely Incredible Kid(s) in your life without writing to mine. So without further ado, I’m putting my money where my proverbial mouth is. My kiddo is 12, nicknamed Cricket, and is hands-down the best thing I have ever done with my life. So here goes.

March 19, 2020

Hey Cricket,
Today is Absolutely Incredible Kid Day (I know this because I had to write a blog about it), so I’m writing to tell you how absolutely incredible you are. Of course, I tell you I love you at least once every day, but there’s a lot packed into those three little words. I thought maybe I’d unpack them now.

  • “I love you” means ever since the second I saw the positive result on the pregnancy test, I’ve loved you more than anything or anyone in the entire universe.
  • “I love you” means I see your big, empathetic, compassionate heart and it makes mine smile.
  • “I love you” means you make me want to be a better person.
  • “I love you” means I am astounded by your talent at visual art and the hard work you put into developing it.
  • “I love you” means I see how kind and careful you are with smaller, weaker beings—dogs, cats, babies—and it speaks to your good character.
  • “I love you” means I see you navigating all the drama that is middle school, remember how hard it was for me, and marvel at your maturity.
  • “I love you” means you have a hilarious sense of humor and it’s so fun to laugh with you.
  • “I love you” means you are one of the most unselfish people I know. You almost always put others’ needs before your own.
  • “I love you” means you are learning to be assertive and stand up for yourself when you need to, and that’s important too.
  • “I love you” means I love you. Always and forever. No matter what. Thank you for being an Absolutely Incredible Kid.

Love,
Mama

Allison Amy WedellAllison Amy Wedell is a writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on sexual abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social and emotional learning, public safety, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at babycenter.com, MomsRising.org, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.


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How School Principals Can Respond to the Coronavirus

By Andrew Hawk

How School Principals Can Respond to the CoronavirusIn my career as an educator, I have experienced medical scares including bird flu, swine flu, SARS, and Ebola. The area in which I taught was hit hard by the bird flu during the 2009–2010 school year. I was teaching second grade at the time. More than half my class was absent for two weeks and several of my colleagues missed time with the flu. My school had students line up by the front doors and staff members (myself included) would swipe their foreheads with a digital thermometer before letting the students enter the cafeteria to eat breakfast. This seemed an extreme situation at the time.

Now we as a world find ourselves in the throes of another medical crisis—and one that is still developing. My superintendent describes it as a “fluid” situation that could change rapidly. Here are some ideas we have been implementing in my school district in case you want to try them.

Stay Current

I am not saying that you have to read every word of every article, but you should be checking the headlines and reading the updates released by your state government. Things can change quickly. I am located close to Purdue University. At the beginning of one day, Purdue announced that they were not cancelling classes. By the end of that same day, Purdue announced that they were switching to online classes after spring break.

Last Friday, I attended an administrators’ meeting in the morning where we were told we were only closing if we had a verified case in our district. At the end of the same day, we announced we would be moving to online classes for all of the following week (which is followed by our spring break). Rapid changes make people uneasy. Don’t be caught off guard.

Consult Your Network

Everyone in your network, whether it is parents, administrators, professors, or colleagues, will have something to add to this narrative. In the spirit of two heads are better than one, I suggest reaching out to these people, even if it is just by email. One or more of them might have a good idea you’ve not thought of yet.

Be Available

Last week, an ambulance was called to my school. Our nurse was out of the building and one of our students was having abnormal chest pains. The paramedics examined the student and the student’s father came and took him to his doctor. The student was back in school the next day.

What did passersby think when they observed that an ambulance was parked in front of our building? They assumed we had a case of coronavirus. I fielded multiple phone calls from parents the next day asking if we had a verified case. Coronavirus is on most people’s minds, and they want to know that their children are safe. Each phone call was brief, but I believe talking to me had a calming influence on people. Whether you are a teacher or an administrator, make time to talk to concerned stakeholders. Postponing these conversations will feed into unnecessary concern.

Control Information

I know this is easier said than done, but if you hear your colleagues or staff members spreading blatantly incorrect information, ask them to stop. If they say someone else in the building told them, go tell that person to stop as well. This can be accomplished in a respectful manner. I had two of these conversations last week. Letting information that is not factual circulate through your school also causes unnecessary concern.

Increase Cleaning

Talk to your custodians about extra cleaning of high-risk areas (such as doorknobs). Consider whether your teachers need to do anything extra. During the bird flu outbreak at my school, we cleaned desks and pencils every day while the students were at lunch. Consider what you will do if you cannot obtain normal cleaning supplies such as disinfectant wipes. We are considering the best homemade cleaning solutions we can put in a spray bottle.

Decrease the Spread of Germs

Cover the best practices for hand washing, coughing, sneezing, and touching in general. Consider halting practices such as food sharing during lunch. Cancel or postpone large gatherings. Last week, my state’s governor restricted gatherings larger than 250 people; on Sunday, the CDC suggested a cap of 50 people. I cancelled my school’s spring concert last Friday, and it was not an easy decision. I have also cancelled all field trips for the rest of the year with the disclaimer that we can reevaluate later if the situation improves.

Plan for Multiple Scenarios

We are currently doing eLearning, but there are challenges with it. What do we do for students who do not have internet access? Our free and reduced lunch rate is 83 percent: How do we get food to our students? What about all of the special education meetings? What about standardized testing? What if at some point we have to even abandon eLearning and just be closed? Will staff members who are paid hourly still get paid?

It is important for administrators to talk through several scenarios so everyone has an idea of what will happen and what could happen. We have answered all these questions in ways that meet the needs of our students and staff members. For example, we are going to make sack lunches that will be passed out at several locations in our community.

Stay Positive

It is easy to get upset when things change quickly. The higher up you are at your organization, the more people will look at how you are responding to adversity. Even if you are frustrated, it is important for you to set a positive tone for your people. In Indiana, we are kicking around the phrase “We are in uncharted territory.” It is important to keep this in mind and to remember that it is true for all of us at all levels of government.

Explain Our Goal

Not everyone understands that the real goal of cancelling school, closing restaurants, and telling everyone to stay home is to slow down the spread of COVID-19. I explained this to several of my staff members last week. On paper, the symptoms do not sound much worse than the flu, but this virus is highly contagious. We as a country are trying to prevent our medical system from being overwhelmed. Whether you think we are doing too much or too little, you too can make a difference by following the advice that is being circulated in your location. Stay safe, everyone.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.


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Grow Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

By Nefertiti B. Poyner, Ed.D.

Grow Your Child’s Emotional IntelligenceFrom the time their babies are born until they establish themselves as adults, many parents are at least a little concerned with how intelligent their children will be. (I know I sure am!) While it is important that children learn their ABCs and 123s and pass exams, growing emotional intelligence (EQ) is an aspect of our children’s development that we must consider in an ongoing and intentional manner. EQ is our ability to identify and manage the emotions of ourselves and others. It refers to the way that we perceive, process, regulate, and use emotional information.

Making an effort to increase your child’s EQ is one of your most important tasks as a parent. Studies consistently show that EQ is much more important than IQ, because it relates directly to happiness and success (Goffman and Declaire 1997; Segrin and Flora 2019). Many highly intelligent adults struggle in day-to-day life due to a lack of emotional intelligence (Segrin and Flora 2019). Those with a higher EQ enjoy more satisfying careers and stronger, more fulfilling relationships. The good news is that we can support children’s EQ development with joy!

Emotional intelligence has five components (Goleman and Boyatzis 2017, 1–5) that are important in all aspects of life.

  1. Self-regulation of emotional states. An emotionally healthy person can manage their moods appropriately and successfully.
  2. The ability to motivate yourself. Staying the course in spite of doubt and distractions is an important component of emotional intelligence.
  3. Empathy for others. This includes the ability to recognize emotions and feelings in others and choose an appropriate course of action.
  4. Navigating relationships. This aspect deals with conflict resolution, treating others appropriately, and receiving the same in return.
  5. Self-awareness. It is important to be able to recognize your own thoughts and emotions dispassionately to make wise choices.

The following strategies can help you increase your child’s EQ.

1. Teach children about their emotions by recognizing and labeling emotions.

Doing so validates the way your child feels. Putting a label on the emotion provides some perspective to your child. (“You’re very excited about your birthday party,” or “You’re sad that you can’t go out to play.”)

Grow Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence2. Help children recognize how they respond to stress.

Some children cry, while others seek solitude. Your child might hit a sibling with a toy. We all have our own ways of dealing with uncomfortable emotions. Your child will start to associate certain emotions with their behaviors. This is an effective way of teaching children to notice their emotional states. (“You cry when you’re tired or frustrated,” or “You want some alone time when you feel angry.”)

3. Encourage children to share their emotions.

If your child is angry, scared, or nervous, encourage them to discuss it. You might want to share circumstances when you felt the same emotion as a child too. Providing your own examples allows your child to develop a broader perspective. Discussing emotions with you helps children learn how to process emotions, which is healthier than suppressing emotions. (“Tomorrow will be your first day of preschool—how are you feeling? I remember when I went to school for the first time! I was so nervous, my belly felt like it was full of butterflies! But I did it. I was brave, and you are too.”)

4. Encourage problem-solving behaviors when emotions run high.

Teach children that strong emotions are a sign of something that needs to be addressed, if possible. It is more effective to work on a solution than it is to become more upset. (“What’s wrong? How can we make it better?” or “Do you know why you’re crying? What would help you stop crying?”)

5. Be an example of emotional intelligence.

Children learn many of their strategies for dealing with the world by observing their parents. Be an example worthy of imitating.

Building your child’s EQ is very important. Those with high EQs enjoy happier and more productive lives. Do your best to learn about emotional intelligence today and prepare your child for a bright future. There are many excellent books on emotional intelligence at your local bookstore, as well as a plethora of information online. Learn how to enhance your own EQ—you and your child will both benefit!

Nefertiti B. PoynerNefertiti B. Poyner, Ed.D., is a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, native now residing in Eastern North Carolina. Currently employed by the Devereux Center for Resilient Children (DCRC), Nefertiti is an author, public speaker, and provider of professional learning experiences for early care and education professionals. She is co-author of a Teacher’s Choice Award–Winning resource, Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure: 50 Activities to Promote Resilience in Young Children, as well as Building Your Bounce: Simple Strategies for a Resilient You, a resource designed to help caregivers build their own resilience. Learn more about Nefertiti and the Devereux Center for Resilient Children at centerforresilientchildren.org.


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References
Goffman, John, and Joan Declaire. 1997. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting. New York: Fireside.

Goleman, Daniel, and Richard E. Boyatzis. 2017. “Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need to Work on.?” Harvard Business Review, February 6, 2017.

Segrin, Chris, and Jeanne Flora. 2019. “Fostering Social and Emotional Intelligence: What Are the Best Current Strategies in Parenting?” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 13, no. 3 (March): e12439. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12439.


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