A retired academic says teaching "emotional competency" in schools can help students with everything from overcoming childhood trauma to getting better grades.

Lee Brown is a retired academic from the University of British Columbia, co-author of The Sacred Tree and former director of the Institute for Aboriginal Health at UBC.

Lee Brown

Lee Brown says kids need to learn emotional skills from an early age. (Council of Yukon First Nations)

He's one of the speakers at the Yukon First Nation Education Summit in Whitehorse. The focus this year is on cultural inclusion in public schools, supporting First Nation students in Whitehorse schools and building the relationship between the Yukon Department of Education and First Nations.

Brown says handling emotions is a skill kids need to learn, just like any other subject in school.

"Albert Einstein was a mathematical genius, but if he'd never studied math, he would never have been able to count to ten," Brown said. "So, emotional competency is what develops when you put your mind in a curriculum from Grade 1 to 12 to develop the emotional skills of the children."

Brown says teaching emotional competency involves helping students to understand their emotional states and how to communicate them. He says that helps students create strong identities for themselves.

Emotional skills can also help students tackle subjects they struggle with, Brown says, giving the example of math, which causes many students anxiety. He says it's possible for students to train themselves to love math.

"The more emotional tools you have in your emotional toolbox, the better off you're going to be."

Brown says bullying, racism and suicide are results of failing to teach children about their emotions.

"There's not a high level of emotional maturity in our society," he said. "There is a high level of emotional toxicity."