Four Ways to Grow Your Child’s Social and Emotional Skills This School Year

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As we head into another post-quarantine school year, you might be wondering how to best support your child’s academic development alongside their wellbeing. One of the best ways to do this is to focus on social emotional learning (SEL).

Boosting a kid’s social and emotional skills helps them excel in academics as well as in other parts of life now and in the future.

Here are four ways to incorporate SEL into your home routines. 

Let your child know what the goal is and create opportunities for them to explore and practice. Talk to your child about the skill you’re helping them develop, explain the importance of that skill, and point out situations where the child can use or practice the skill. 

For example: You notice that your child gets frustrated and leaves the table when learning something new. 

  • When they are calm, ask what they feel in their body when a task feels too hard, is just right, is too easy. 
  • Together, come up with a few strategies they can use to calm down when they begin to notice they are feeling upset.
  • Throughout lessons, ask them to check in with their bodies and practice the calm down strategies as needed.

Talk about situations that elicit big feelings before they occur.  Anticipate moments that will be most challenging for your child. Prepare them for what’s coming, talk about big feelings that might arise, and brainstorm strategies they can use to regulate.

For example: You’re helping your child with a new learning task that you think might frustrate them.

  • Make a schedule so they know what to expect (I’d suggest sandwiching the frustrating task between tasks your child can do easily and enjoys).
  • Look at the schedule together and ask your child how they think they might feel doing each of the activities listed.
  • Together, come up with a list of strategies they can use to manage any big feelings (such as deep breaths, a walk outside, or a special signal they use to let you know they’re upset).  Remind them that you are there for support.

Have your child help you come up with examples and non-examples. Be explicit about what it looks like to demonstrate a specific SEL skill.  Together, make a list of behaviors that align with the goal, and a list of behaviors that don’t.

For example: Your child is getting ready to have a friend over, so you want them to think about being a good host.

  • First, have your child identify how they are feeling about having the friend over and ask them how they think the friend might be feeling about the playdate.
  • Have them name a few strategies they can use to keep themselves regulated during the playdate so they can have fun.
  • Talk about how they could help their friend feel safe and welcome (e.g., picking out a few games the friend likes, showing them where the bathroom is when they arrive) and a list of things they could do that would NOT make their friend feel welcome (e.g., hogging all of the toys, not offering any snacks). 

Model positive social skills and emotion management.  Children take their cues from adults, so we need to walk our talk when it comes to SEL. This doesn’t mean we need to get it right 100% of the time. When kids see adults making mistakes, taking responsibility for them, and trying to do things differently the next time, they learn to do the same.

For example: Your child sees you get upset and raise your voice to someone in the household.

  • Name the emotion you’re feeling, find a strategy to self-regulate (take a walk, a deep breath), and tell your child “I’m feeling ___________ so I’m doing ___________ to calm myself down.”
  • Once you’re calm, remind your child that it’s okay to have all kinds of emotions and explain how your emotions affected your behavior (for example, “I was getting really mad and it was hard for me to control the tone of my voice.”)
  • Talk to your child about how you will repair the situation or what you hope to do differently next time.

As you’re helping your kid with homework or reflecting on their progress during the school year, ask yourself: How will I be able to tell if my child has developed a particular SEL skill?  What will I see them doing, or not doing?

Asking and answering these questions requires you to build your own self-awareness and empathy. That way, you can offer your children the guidance they need to grow as social and emotional beings. 

Dr. Gwen Bass is an educational consultant, parenting coach, and member of the EQuip Our Kids! speaker bureau.  Her work focuses on social-emotional learning, trauma-informed education, culturally responsive teaching, positive identity development, and special education.

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