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Promoting Emotional Competence

Susanne Denham, Ph.D., was the keynote speaker at the 2018 Urban Education and Community Forum. Photo by Brandon Parigo, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications.

Urban Education Forum cites importance of emotional support for children

A child’s emotional competence level when starting kindergarten can have a powerful impact on that child’s long-term chances for school success, according to Susanne Denham, Ph.D., of George Mason University. Denham was the featured speaker at the 2018 Urban Education and Community Forum sponsored by the School of Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Emotional competence, she explained, is a key component of social and emotional learning, and refers to a child’s ability to experience and express emotions; regulate their emotions; and recognize and understand emotions in themselves and in others. Denham is an applied developmental psychologist with particular expertise in the social and emotional development of children.

The influence of family and community factors on school readiness is well documented, and Denham said those are powerful influences on emotional competence as well. Risk factors such as poverty and violence impair a child’s ability to develop that competence. Her studies have shown that children with a higher level of emotional competence when entering school have more positive attitudes about school, participate more in school and earn better grades. Children raised in high-risk environments, on the other hand, tend to display more negative emotions and aggression.

Parents impact a child’s development of emotional competence in three ways: by modeling how they express and regulate their own emotions; by how they respond to the child’s expressions of emotion; and by specifically teaching children about emotions and helping them understand their emotional responses.

Pre-school and kindergarten teachers can aid children with deficits in emotional competence by displaying tenderness and happiness, Denham said.

Also during the program, the School of Education honored Susan Wally, president and CEO of PREP-KC, as recipient of the 2018 Hugh J. Zimmer Award for Excellence in Urban Education. PREP-KC works to improve student achievement in the region’s urban schools, specifically through college and career preparation. Prior to founding PREP-KC, Wally served as vice president for education at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The award was presented by Ellen Darling, UMKC Trustee and daughter of the award’s namesake benefactor, Hugh J. Zimmer.

“Hugh has made an indelible mark in his efforts to level the playing field in urban education,” said Justin Perry, dean of the School of Education.

Wally, in turn, saluted Jennifer Waddell, Ph.D., director of the school’s Institute for Urban Education, which she called “an emerging center of excellence for the university.”

In her welcoming remarks, UMKC Interim Chancellor Barbara A. Bichelmeyer said “We must ensure that our community members and representatives are just as dedicated to students’ success in the classroom as parents are at home. That’s what it’s all about – providing a sufficient education, not just an efficient education.”


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