As a mom and a school psychologist, I often reflect on what separates a good school from a great one. The answer is often the focus that the whole community invests in fostering the well-being of all its members. This focus often comes into practice under the label of social-emotional learning in schools.
Social-emotional learning, as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social,
and Emotional Learning (CASEL), is “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” Research consistently shows that students who receive social-emotional instruction have improved behavior, academics, and long-term social-emotional success.
At Peck, we continue our dedication toward educating the whole child through explicit modeling, curricular objectives, and experiential learning experiences. These approaches allow children to further practice their social-emotional skills in a safe, developmentally appropriate environment.
However, as parents, what can we do with our children outside of school to support their social-emotional growth and to best prepare them for the eventual obstacles that they will face in life?
- Encourage Vocabulary: Acquisition of vocabulary is a skill students work on throughout their educational careers. This vocabulary should not be limited to simply academic content, but also emotional experiences. Encouraging children to identify how they are feeling in a wide variety of situations will help them to develop self-awareness and to better identify with their feelings as challenging situations arise. For example, when a child states they are angry, help them tease out the underlying emotion: are they truly angry about a situation or are they frustrated things are not going their way, sad that they are feeling left out, etc. This greater awareness will lead to open conversations with adults in their lives and hopefully facilitate problem-solving.
- Model Emotional Response: Children are always watching how the adults in their lives react to different situations. They look to us as models of how to behave when faced with similar obstacles as they grow. Modeling for them how to respond to situations that may sadden, anger, or bring us joy, will allow children to strengthen their understanding of how emotions affect us.
- Talk and Listen: Children need a safe environment in which to explore their feelings and talk through challenging experiences that arise throughout their day. They also seek to be included in our experiences as adults. Sharing our feelings with our children, in an age-appropriate manner, will help them develop empathy and understand that emotional experiences are something that everyone faces, regardless of age. This collaboration will also assist students in fostering healthy relationships with family members. These familial relationships lay the foundation for further relationships and friendships.
- Expectations: Children look to the adults in their lives for clear expectations on how to react in different situations. It is always okay for children to show their emotions; however, we have to teach them the appropriate way to do it. Creating a family culture that has high expectations for social and emotional wellbeing will help reinforce for children the importance of its value in their everyday life. These expectations can be communicated to children regularly through adults’ words and, most importantly, exemplified through their actions. As children grow up and the demands on their time increase, it’s critical that we have taught them the importance of self-care and mental health.
- Routines and Consistency: Children thrive with routines and consistency in their day. Creating a routine at home will help children know what to expect and help them feel safe. These routines can range from getting ready each morning to getting ready for bed. When children know what to expect each day, they have the space to explore their thoughts and feelings in a safe, supportive environment. This exploration will allow children to develop a strong foundation, which will allow them to begin to explore more complex social-emotional concepts, like goal-setting and problem-solving, as they grow.
As with all things in parenting, there is no instruction manual on how to teach your child social and emotional skills. It takes focus, dedication, and patience. Rest assured, however, that the investment you make now in your child’s social and emotional growth will better prepare them for future challenges.