The Whats and Whys of SEL

Increasingly there is a focus on young children and adolescents to perform at high levels academically to be competitive and successful. While academics are a primary key to success, it is critical to first empower children with the skills they need to flourish academically. These skills are better known collectively as social emotional learning, or SEL.

What some parents may not know is that a healthy foundation for social emotional learning begins at home and can also translate to success at school. By raising a child who feels safe and emotionally healthy at home, a parent is enabling them to better navigate the challenges and emotions of school as well.

What Is Social Emotional Learning?

Often referred to by the acronym of SEL, social emotional learning is the adolescent process of adopting crucial self-control, self-awareness, and interpersonal skills that shape a child’s experience at home, school, and life in general.

The goal of social emotional learning is for an adolescent to acknowledge the feelings they are experiencing and then process them in a positive and helpful manner rather than acting rashly or acting out. This helps not only the student themselves but can also help them identify and show empathy to peers that may need help processing their emotions.

Practicing effective social emotional learning can significantly impact a child by helping them:

  • Solve problems
  • Be responsible
  • Make better decisions
  • Positively handle their emotions
  • Practice empathy
  • Maintain healthier relationships

Why Social Emotional Learning Is Important for School

From the earliest school experiences of Mother’s Day Out all the way through high school, students in these settings are learning how to process their emotions in healthier ways. For example, a child in Mother’s Day Out is learning that they cannot take what is not theirs and that they must share with others.

In preschool, a child may rely on social emotional learning skills to help them navigate playground struggles. For example, if Jonathan is playing with a red kickball and Mark wants a turn, Mark can tell the other boy that he needs a turn and would like the ball when Jonathan is done with it. This empowers the children to take control of a situation by advocating for what they need or want without becoming overly aggressive.

A foundation in social emotional learning can also help students ask for what they need. An elementary school student who is struggling with a math problem can choose to ask a teacher for help when they get stuck instead of snapping their pencil in half and throwing away their paper.

Children who learn social emotional skills often tend to have more friends, especially at school. These connections can allow a child to feel like they belong and play a role in a group larger than themselves.  This can help with preventing a child from feeling isolated, marginalized, or bullied.

Studies have shown that adopting social emotional learning skills on a daily basis can yield broad benefits at school such as:

  • Better test scores
  • More appropriate classroom behavior
  • Lower truancy rates

Ultimately it can significantly raise a child’s chances of:

  • Graduating high school
  • Obtaining a college degree
  • Securing a good job

Why Social Emotional Learning Is Important for Life at Home

Parents play a significant role in creating an atmosphere of social emotional learning at home so that a child is able to better manage his or her emotions and make good decisions. One of the first steps a parent can take to create that environment is to ensure a child feels safe, respected, and trusted. Some of the ways they can do this is by:

  • Being available. Whether a parent works two jobs or an overnight shift, even just twenty minutes a day with a child where they get your undivided attention can be beneficial for you both.
  • Practicing active listening. Don’t just hear your child talking, listen to what they are saying and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Being supportive. This generally means being supportive of your child’s endeavors in everything from academics to sports to relationships. Children can especially crave the support of a parent during difficult or challenging times.

Regularly practicing these behaviors can yield a number of benefits inside the home such as:

  • Improved parenting behaviors
  • Positive parent-child relationships
  • Laying the foundation for a child’s academic and social success at school

How To Maintain Social Emotional Learning Skills Amidst a Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted families and schools in drastic ways, including:

  • Rising unemployment rates which can cause families to struggle to keep food on the table
  • Parenting from work while children learn virtually
  • Quarantining with family members seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day without a break
  • Having schools go back and forth between in-person learning and virtual learning

It is enough to make those of us who have been practicing healthy social emotional skills for years feel stressed in unprecedented ways. But there are a couple of things parents can do to help their children feel safer:

  1. Establish a routine. Whether your child is learning in-person or virtually, help them and your family establish a routine that gives your days shape and your weeks continuity.
  2. Engage children in digital socializing with peers. This may look like a child attending school Zoom sessions with their classmates or simply calling a friend to chat. Peer relationships are a huge part of social emotional learning, so look for ways to safely do so during the pandemic.