I was struck recently by two articles that focus on why emotional connections are so important in learning.

The first, was an Australian parenting site, focused on babies and young children.  It outlined the importance of emotionally connecting every day with children in order to build their confidence and willingness to experiment. 

My one year old granddaughter, Sophia, is a perfect example.  She is walking (oh my is she walking!) and seeks out both escalators and steps to conquer!  She looks for encouragement from Mom and Dad, and sometimes G’pa. Re-enforcing that yes, with a little assistance, she can surmount the imposing set of steps ahead of her.  She seems fearless and responds incredibly quickly to both the non verbal and verbal encouragement. 

No matter what your child’s, or grandchild’s, age, there are things we can do every day to send the message that your child is special and important. 

Simple Behavior Changes

The Austalian learning website, Raisingchildren.net.au points out the following simple behaviors:

  • Look at your child and smile at her/him.
  • Show interest in what your child is doing – ask him/her to tell you about it if they can.
  • Pay attention and listen closely when your child talks to you.
  • Make up some special rituals you can share together.

This is pretty simple stuff, but it’s really, really important for child development. Especially so at an age where digital distractions are ever-present.

The Emotional Component of Learning

Now, change gears a bit with me.  Fast forward to David Brooks in the NYTimes on January 18th, 2019.  He approaches the same topic but focuses on learning in general.  He notes that “emotion is not the opposite of reason; it’s essential to reason.  Emotions assign value to things.  If you don’t know what you want, you can’t make good decisions.”

Even learning a language has an important emotional component.  For example, Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington gave infants Chinese lessons.  Some of them took face to face lessons with a tutor. Where their social brain was activated through direct eye contact.  Where as others watched lessons on a video screen.  They paid rapt attention, but learned nothing.They needed the warm, visual embrace of a teacher in order for their brain to absorb what they were learning. 

How to Establish Meaningful Connections

So too, our organizations need to establish the emotional connections that foster learning and growth.  What is the quality of our emotional relationships at our school, or company?  Do our leaders provide warm encouragement that foster learning?

The idea that “emotions are not that important” just doesn’t hold water.  Making genuine eye contact; expressing caring gestures; intensely listening so that ideas are heard, and valued…are all rooted in how we learn as kids.

Fortunately, these social and emotional learning principles are now embedded into “the way we do school” in many systems.   For a more detailed discussion see:  https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/03/the-social-emotion….

Why This Doesn’t Just Apply to Children

The question for adults is how these learning principles can become embedded in our approaches to facilitating growth. “How we can we integrate social and emotional facilitators of learning in our businesses, universities and other organizations”?
Our learning needs as adults are similar to those of kids. Think about it. And then go out and connect with and encourage those around you.

Originally posted January 20, 2019, by Psychology Today


“Students Learn From People They Love”, David Brooks, New York Times, January 18, 2019.
“The Catalyst Effect”,  by Toomer, Caldwell, Weitzenkorn, Clark. Emerald Publishing, 2018.