Elsa Punset

Writer and educator

"Be your children's emotional trainers and let them express all their emotions"

Find out more details about how to teach emotional intelligence

We must rediscover what the word education means. It basically means to 'drive or guide'. Over centuries, humans have driven or guided the next generations in order to transfer knowledge. This can be done very informally by the family at home, through life itself, which guides and educates along the way, or it can take place at specific locations, as has been the case for a long time for those in the upper echelons of society. The biggest change in the last century was that we suddenly wanted to make education professional, so we created schools, which is where we send our children year after year. But, what do they learn here? Basically, they learn the skills required to live in an industrial society, which is a world that has all but disappeared. Following the revolution in technology, we now live in a society that bears practically no resemblance to that of the industrial era. It's probably one of the faults of our system that we keep trying to train, educate and guide our children to be predictable. What is certain is that education is a great social leveler, as it's almost the only way we can try to offer everyone the same opportunities. What do we need instead of predictable, punctual and obedient children? The problem is that we've never experienced such rapid change. Furthermore, the changes that are taking place are generating a lot of challenges. Our creative capacity has been unleashed, which is why we need really creative children. Children who live in such diverse societies have so many options to travel, find out about the world and collaborate with others, which is why they need the skills to be able to cooperate and to see diversity as an asset. We are full of different identities: gender, we are born in one place, live in another and love a different one. We are mothers, fathers, children, brothers and sisters, we love nature, you name it. All of the above elements create a group of identities that enrich our lives, which new generations need to learn to enjoy. These generations also have another very important skill, which is the capacity for critical thought. As I mentioned earlier, we've never had access to so much information. So, we need to know how to evaluate this information and how to check, validate, compare, understand and apply it to our lives. Another important consideration is that we've never had so much capacity to do good or bad. That's why we need to teach our children how to make responsible decisions and to be able to understand each other. It is now more important than ever for children to be able to understand and relate to others so they can continue to strive for what humans have done for centuries, which is to spread empathy, help others and gradually make this world a better place. This, for me, is education.

Technology will be able to help make education more effective and personal at a much lower cost. Classrooms will be completely different in ten years time. Technology can help us understand children better. It can help us find out about learning windows, when and at what times of day children are best equipped to absorb knowledge, how they should be learning and how they can consolidate what they've learned. All of this will become like physical hygiene. We still have a long way to go, and technology will be able to help us understand how to navigate the route better.

Our brains are a place where reason and emotion work alongside each other rather than in competition. We have discovered that we can train our emotions, as we would a muscle. This means that children can learn about other concepts at school as well as language and math, which are the skills that have been considered most important until now. We can teach our children about self-control, optimism, joy, serenity, etc., and about the fact that these emotions have a powerful impact on intelligence, because a child that is stressed or sad learns much worse than a child that is at peace emotionally. Emotions leave a mark on everything in our lives, including our memories and ability to learn.

It is important to teach children to be able to deal with life's ups and downs and to learn something from each situation. We must give them the tools they need to cope with difficult times, so they can learn how to 'be' and enjoy the miracle of life. After all, it's quite extraordinary, some might even say a miracle, that we're here at all. We are all winners just for having got this far; it's incredible.

Find out more about Elsa Punset

Elsa Punset is a writer and educator and is also the Content Director of the Laboratory for Social and Emotional Learning (LASE). She has a BA in Philosophy and The Arts and an MA in Humanities from the University of Oxford. She also has an MA in Journalism from the Autonomous University of Madrid and an MA in Secondary Education from the Camilo José Cela University. Ms Punset has written successful books such as ‘Una mochila para el Universo’ ('A backpack for the Universe'), ‘El libro de las pequeñas revoluciones’ ('The book of small revolutions') and ‘Felices’ ('Happy'). Elsa Punset is a renowned expert in emotional intelligence.
What information can you give us to illustrate the fact that we've got a problem with our dreams?

I'm afraid we have. We are an emotional ecosystem. By nature, people have different characteristics, and this makes them able to deal with different types of situations so we can survive together as a group. To a certain extent, optimism depends on genetics. However, it is possible to become a more optimistic person. Optimists experience the same problems as pessimists, but they are better equipped to overcome obstacles because they are more hopeful about the future. This means they don't tend to create as many barriers (intellectual or otherwise) and are able to find other ways forward. One of the secrets to being an optimist is not to waste time worrying about the major tragedies that might happen in the future. Optimists tend to focus on managing small things. For example, if they are annoyed about being stuck in traffic they might think "how can I improve this situation?" Our brain is programmed to survive. It tends to hold on to fear and remember negative things. We can help our brains by training them to think positively. We can help our brains to be more realistic, to enjoy things and focus on the present and to express feelings. This will help us discover our strengths, believe in ourselves and be creative.

"Up until they are five or six, 98% of children are experts at divergent thought. Over the years, we lose our creativity".

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