Our children are experiencing a time in history that’s unique to us all. They have had limited connection with their teachers, classmates, and friends. They are seeing and hearing events on the news and in social media that can cause feelings of anxiety and fear. They might not be able to handle or process the emotions that are bubbling up. With more and more time spent on devices, our children – regardless of age – struggle with skills such as cooperation, conflict resolution, managing thoughts, and problem solving. Because of this, fostering social-emotional skills has been a focus in education since at least the 1990s.
In many classrooms, social-emotional learning was part of the instructional day. Research has shown that students with strong SEL skills tend to be more engaged in learning, more confident, and participate more in activities. They are able to share their thoughts, listen to others’ expressions, and interact with others in positive ways. Educators had an opportunity to nurture these skills while distance teaching, with consistent checks via email or phone call and by providing collaborative learning sessions.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) describes five core SEL competencies:
Students are able to recognize their own emotions, thoughts, and values and understand how they affect behavior. They can assess their strengths and weaknesses, for the purpose of growth.
Students are able to handle their emotions and thoughts, controlling their behaviors and impulses, and work towards setting and meeting goals.
- Social awareness
Students are able to empathize with others, including those of different backgrounds and cultures, by understanding their perspectives.
- Relationship skills
Students are able to build and maintain healthy relationships with those of diverse backgrounds, through clear communication and cooperation.
- Responsible decision-making
Students are able to make productive choices about personal behaviors and relationships, evaluate consequences of choices, and consider others’ well-being.
Now that the school year for many has ended, what can we do at home to help our children continue their SEL growth process? What can we do to help them understand their feelings and maintain balance in a seemingly “unbalanced” time?
Our children can sense when we are anxious and worried, so we need to take time out each day to practice self-care. This can mean exercising, taking a short walk to clear our heads, journaling, or anything that can help us maintain balance.
- Set routines
Routines can help provide a sense of security, helping our children feel grounded. This is especially important for those of us experiencing some trauma related to the health and social issues prevalent at this moment. Creating a daily routine and practicing it every day can help every member in the family feel more secure.
- Acts of kindness
By practicing kindness for others, we appreciate our own lives and situations. Modeling this kindness is much more powerful than simply talking about it. Involve your children in calling, messaging, or writing cards and letters to those who live alone or are busy working frontlines.
- Get creative
Make opportunities to learn new things that can support self-expression and communicate feelings. For example, choose a board game and learn how to play together, sharing thoughts and opinions on the game, strategy, and other areas that lead to meaningful communication. Other examples include baking and cooking together, completing puzzles, doing art projects, or playing an instrument.
- Actively listen
Take the time to ask your children how they’re feeling, then listen while maintaining eye contact. Restate what you heard and explain what you can. This helps children feel that you validate their feelings. This can in turn help them understand their feelings and better empathize with others.
Strengthening social-emotional skills at home will help our children deal with what they are experiencing in their young lives. Of course, the needs of a young child are different than a teenager, so seeking the support of teachers and community members is important. You can also check district webpages for SEL sources like what has been made available to educators in Washington state. Similarly, there are free resources available online such as through InsideSEL and Parent Toolkit.
The focus of SEL is to support our children with their changing emotions, which can have profound effects. We want them to understand and manage how they process their thoughts and behaviors, feel confident about their position in the world, and nurture empathy for others.