Social emotional learning (SEL) is a popular buzz word today amongst parents, schools, and mental health experts, and with good reason. The premise behind it is that this type of learning allows children to get better control of their emotions so that they can then be free to actively learn and experience greater levels of success. When social emotional learning is exhibited and encouraged at home and school, it allows children to feel valued, wanted, and capable of making better decisions.

Situations That May Inhibit Social Emotional Learning

There are a number of everyday situations that can cause children to not be able to fully focus their attention on learning. Some real-life examples of this could include:

  • Problems at home. A child that has had a problem at home that morning either with a parent or sibling, or even something like accidentally leaving their backpack at home, may have trouble organizing their thoughts once they’ve arrived at school.
  • Adversarial relationships. If a child is experiencing a troublesome relationship with another student, teacher, or member of the school faculty, this may also hinder their ability to put that issue aside to focus on learning.
  • A rough morning. If a student realizes they forgot to do a homework assignment or can’t find their snack in their backpack, it can also distract them.

A student experiencing the above situations will likely find it difficult to actively learn at school and may even act out because of it. This is not uncommon. Even as adults, it is not unusual to bring one of the above mindsets with us into work. The key to successfully moving past them is learning how to react with more awareness.


Situations That Can Enhance Social Emotional Learning

A child who is mostly content and at ease as they head into school in the morning will generally feel better about themselves and have a more positive attitude, which lends itself to better interactions with others and a better state of mind for active learning.

Although there may likely be circumstances beyond a child’s control from time to time, it does not necessarily mean they have to become victim to that situation. SEL can enable children to better process a situation and get control of their emotions.

Social Emotional Learning

The concept of SEL centers around three primary skills:

  • Self-awareness. This skill helps a child to recognize their emotions as a situation evolves. For example, if Joanna is in an argument with Riley and pauses long enough to realize and name the emotion of anger she is feeling during the confrontation, she is practicing self-awareness.
  • Self-control. This skill typically looks like recognizing the possible actions you can take and acting on the best one. Keeping with the scenario above, this could look like Joanna choosing to say angry things, taking a step back and creating distance from the situation, or asking her friend to take a breath with her and try to calmly work things out. When Joanna processes how she is feeling and the best possible options of how to handle it, she is able to take control of the emotion.
  • Relationship building. By following the above steps, Joanna is positioned to problem solve, make better decisions, and have better control of emotions, all of which lends itself to better relationship building with both peers and adults.

Where Should SEL Be Taught

To be most effective, social emotional learning should be taught to children both at home and school. Schools should offer parents SEL learning tips to do at home with their children that if practiced will yield improvements for the child in the school environment as well.

At home parents should work on helping their child to feel emotionally healthy by loving them unconditionally. As humans, this type of love is one of our primary needs and when parents or caregivers show children unconditional love it helps them feel loved, accepted, valued, and wanted. It is one of the greatest gifts a child can receive and is the foundation for honing social emotional learning skills.

Social emotional learning at school is critical for all students, but especially for those that may have a difficult home life and see school as perhaps a safer and more stable environment. Teachers can show their students social emotional learning by teaching them, listening to them, valuing their opinions, and disciplining them in a way that still lets them know they are valued and loved.

Benefits of SEL to Students

The benefits of social emotional learning are extensive and stretch from home to school. Some of the primary benefits of SEL for students can include:

  • Better parent-child relationships
  • Healthier peer relationships with friendships at home and at school
  • Improved teacher-student relationships
  • Decreased feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Lower truancy rates
  • Higher test scores
  • Better classroom behavior

A child who feels loved, valued, and wanted is equipped to better process their emotions, choose a positive reaction, and interact with others in a healthier way. Parents and teachers should inquire whether their school is willing to incorporate daily social emotional learning skills to help their students succeed.

Dr G

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