Social Emotional Learning Builds School Success

by | Feb 22, 2022 | Family, Mental Health, Parenting with Purpose, School, Tips

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All parents want their child to succeed in school and in life. Self regulation can help. Do you know that this success depends more on the child’s social and emotional strength than on their reading, writing and arithmetic? Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is essential to maximizing achievement.

So, what is SEL? Social Emotional Learning refers to a person’s ability to manage their emotions, make responsible decisions and manage positive relationships with others. Self regulation is essential to improving SEL.

toddler looking upward, self regulation

Young children begin to learn self regulation by watching others. You’ve seen the toddler who falls down and then looks to their mother to see her reaction. If Mom looks scared, the toddler cries. If Mom smiles and looks encouraging, the toddler smiles too. They are learning self regulation of emotions.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

There are five areas of Social Emotional Learning: awareness of emotions, managing emotions and interactions with others, establishing and maintaining positive relationships, making responsible decisions and having social awareness.

Watching your child’s activities is a good time for you to take stock in how they are doing with these self regulation skills. You can observe their interactions with others and their reaction to challenges. Is your 10 year old aware of how their words affect their peers? Do they use friendly teasing that hurts their friends feelings? This is social awareness.

two teen girls back to back

Parents should watch as their kids navigate solving personal problems and relationships. How does your teen handle friendship issues? Do they stop talking to a friend when they have been wronged? Or are they able to confront the issue and talk it out?

Using self regulation to solve relationship problems improves your child’s SEL. Once you are aware of your child’s strengths and weaknesses as they relate to SEL, you can begin to plan a path for them to improve their skills.

Awareness of Emotions

Children express emotions easily. But, do they really know what emotions they are expressing? Do they have the language they need to describe their feelings and reflect on them?

Some children come home from school exhausted and disagreeable. Do they recognize these emotions and feelings as exhaustion? Or do they just lash out at other family members?

Parents can help their child by teaching them to label their emotions. Simple statements like, “You are really happy today,” or “It looks like you are feeling angry, can you tell me about it?” will help your child to grow in awareness of their emotions.

mom sitting, angry girl looking away, self regulation

Managing Emotions and Interactions

Once your child begins to understand the language describing their emotions, they can also begin to manage them more successfully. Children who understand what they are feeling can explain their feelings. Talking about emotions is the first step to being able to manage your own emotions. It is the path to self regulation.

You can help your child to label their emotions by making conversation about feelings a part of their day. When they come home excited, help them to label that emotion. “You seem very happy and excited. Sounds like you had fun.” If they are struggling with homework, “You seem frustrated. Would it help to take a short break?” Or, “Is there a way I could help?”

Labeling emotions also helps you see the impact those emotions have on their relationships. Feeling angry can make you say and do things that are hurtful to others. A child who is angry, and recognizes it, can learn to make decisions about their behavior to avoid conflict. They can also work to learn calming techniques and other coping strategies.

Establishing and Maintaining Positive Relationships

Peer and sibling relationships are the training grounds for healthy adult relationships. Parents guide their children in creating and sustaining those relationships. They also model positive relationships and self regulation skills.

How do you react to big emotions? Do you get angry and lash out? If so, your children will copy you. When you are tracking your child’s emotions, track your own as well. It may be enlightening.

Parents should listen when children are playing and discuss the interactions with them after their play. Did they treat their friend well? Were they bossy and demanding? How did that make their friend feel?

A casual conversation during a car ride can provide great insight and allow you to give your child relationship advice and direction.

Making Responsible Decisions

Decision making skills impact our lives forever. Parents guide and model these skills for their children every day. Have you ever thought about mindfully teaching your children how to make responsible decisions?

Implicit instruction on decision making isn’t difficult but it takes time and effort. Your child has decisions to make each day. They can be a simple as, “Should I clean my room or watch more TV?”

If your child struggles with decision making start by modeling how you make decisions. You could “think aloud” when it’s decision time. “Let’s see should I go grocery shopping now or wait until tomorrow?”

Help your child navigate their decision making by engaging in conversation whenever a decision arises. The more you practice this conversation around decision making, the more your child will learn to be thoughtful when making decisions.

Social Awareness

Social awareness is the ability to empathize and put yourself in another’s situation. It includes being able to understand cultural and belief differences.

This is an essential self regulation skill for everyone. Teaching your child empathy and understanding happens when you watch a show together. Take time to point out how the characters showed empathy, or not. Another way to teach this to your children is to point out when they are being critical of others.

When friends or siblings argue, help your child consider the other person’s point of view. You can talk them through their feelings and thoughts about others. Use the words “empathy” and “respect” to help give them language around social awareness.

Ten Steps to Social Emotional Health at Home

kids on dock by lake
  1. Model empathy, kindness, respect and gratitude
  2. Listen to your children and expect them to listen to you
  3. Establish consistent consequences for misbehavior
  4. Forgive one another
  5. Teach responsibility, model responsibility
  6. Give choices and establish boundaries– (make sure they are reasonable)
  7. Read stories that teach SEL skills
  8. Watch movies that promote SEL skills
  9. Volunteer with your children to help those in need
  10. Love one another unconditionally

Social Emotional Learning using self regulation is a lifelong journey. It is a journey you and your children will walk together. There are many resources available online to allow you to teach these skills at home. Your efforts will result in a lifetime of healthy living.  


by Lisa Reichelt, M.Ed., Parent Coach

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