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Video: How Rapper Darryl “DMC” McDaniels Is Helping Kids Grow By Embracing Their Emotions

The hip hop icon joins experts to talk about the power of social and emotional learning

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Rapper Darryl “DMC” McDaniels has had just about every kind of success a person can have. 

As part of the groundbreaking group Run-D.M.C. McDaniels racked up a formidable list of “firsts” in the hip-hop world, with multi-platinum albums, Grammy awards, rock’n’roll crossovers, sold out stadiums, a Rolling Stone cover, and hip hop’s first major apparel endorsement.  

But McDaniels, who had been creative and introspective since childhood, also battled depression and personal demons that threatened to steal the joy of his success. Now, he’s using his influence and ability to rap on command to reach kids with an important message: Your feelings matter. 

He takes this message to schools, and works with Nickelodeon’s educational arm, Noggin, on a literacy and social emotional learning television series “What’s the Word?” He also authored a children’s book, Darryl’s Dream, about a third grader who finds perseverance and confidence in the face of doubt. 

Ahead of a panel discussion hosted by Big Heart World, Sparkler, Noggin and The 74, McDaniels spoke with correspondent Bekah McNeel about his love of therapy and empowering words, and about the ways adults can validate the emotions of children while helping them through the tough parts of growing up. 

“A lot of the things we go through as adults start in childhood,” McDaniels said. Rather than pushing away anxiety, fear, and sadness—insisting that children be happy simply because they don’t carry the responsibilities of adulthood—he suggested teachers and parents, “Let them be engaged from the point where they’re at.” 

A lifelong fan of superhero comics, McDaniels reminds kids that when Spider-Man and the Hulk and others are not in their superhero form, their alter egos like Peter Parker and Bruce Banner have to deal with bullies, setbacks, and all the problems regular people face. Even Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker, McDaniels said, “He had parental issues.” 

Parents and teachers, the original heroes in kids’ lives, can also model vulnerability so that kids see how to handle tough emotions—it’s healthy to have negative feelings, because bad and sad things happen. At the same time, the feelings don’t have to stop you from reaching your goals. Being appropriately open and vulnerable with kids also strengthens that adult-child relationship, which will also contribute to the child’s success. People admire strength, he explained, but they connect to vulnerability. 

Those connections are a top priority for University of Michigan researcher and pediatrician Jenny Radesky, who joined Austin ISD educator Rebekah Ozuna and American Enterprise Institute policy analyst Rick Hess in a discussion following the McDaniels interview. The panelists discussed the state of social and emotional learning in their various fields—from insight gained during the pandemic to current political pushback, from social media to classroom management. 

While there may be ideological and political debate over whether topics like anti-racism and LGBTQ identity belong in social and emotional learning curricula or in schools at all, Ozuna said every classroom inherently has a “culture and climate” in addition to academic instruction. If the culture of the classroom doesn’t acknowledge the real struggles students face, she said, little else was going to break through. This became more clear than ever as students and teachers struggled through the pandemic. “Everything was greatly intertwined.”

Other educators have told The 74 similar stories in recent years. Here were some of our most discussed and shared articles about social and emotional learning in 2022: 

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