by Lisa Reichelt, M.Ed., Parent Coach
All parents want their child to succeed in school and in life. Would it surprise you to know that this success is more dependent on the child’s social and emotional strength than it is on their reading, writing and arithmetic? Research shows that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is essential to maximizing achievement (Durlak et al). 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.
What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?
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. Summer is a good time for you to take stock in how your child is performing in these areas of skill. You can observe their interactions with others. Parents can watch as they navigate solving personal problems and relationships. You can help them manage their emotions and decision making. 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? 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.
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 use that knowledge to explain their feelings and 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 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 relationships. You can do this by listening when children are playing and by discussing the interactions with them after their play. A casual conversation during a car ride can yield great insight and allow a parent to give their 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?” You can help them 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 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 skill for our children and for all. One of the first ways to teach this to your children is to help them resist being critical of others. When their friends or siblings do something that bothers them, parents can help children to 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
- Model empathy, kindness, respect and gratitude
- Listen to your children and expect them to listen to you
- Establish consistent consequences for misbehavior
- Forgive one another
- Teach responsibility, model responsibility
- Give choices and establish boundaries– (make sure they are reasonable)
- Read stories that teach SEL skills
- Watch movies that promote SEL skills
- Volunteer with your children to help those in need
- Love one another unconditionally
Social Emotional Learning 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.
Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K.B. (2011). “The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions.” Child Development, 82, pp.405-432.