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Ideas, News & Advice for K-12 educators and administrators to help create safe learning environments.

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Written by Charlotte Andrist
on May 19, 2020

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the framework for understanding and managing one’s emotions, setting and achieving goals, practicing empathy, and maintaining relationships. With much of everyday life uprooted by the COVID-19 pandemic, practicing SEL skills can seem like a redundant pursuit. However, SEL may actually be more relevant during a crisis, and supporting these important skills at home can help your children cope and learn resilience.

As a parent, you might think that you have no experience with complicated topics like SEL, but your understanding of your own child’s emotional and mental well-being makes you an important participant in the growth of your child’s SEL skills. While your child is home for an extended period of time, maintaining and encouraging their social and emotional learning is in your hands.

Here are five ways you can support SEL at home:

  1. Talk about your own feelings and how you’re coping with them.
    One way to teach children specific SEL skills is by modeling behaviors. In order to help children become more self-aware of emotions and learn how to express them in a clear and healthy way, you should practice these behaviors yourself—particularly in front of your kids. When children see how the adults who support them are handling their own life stresses, they are able to see that both good and bad feelings are a part of everyday life and communicating these emotions is the first step to understanding them and solving problems.

  2. Teach children about the importance of gratitude.
    Research has shown that cultivating gratitude in your everyday life has significant benefits to mental health. Especially in times of uncertainty, talking about gratitude can be a great way to momentarily remove any stresses and focus on only the good around you. Consider having a daily gratitude chat, where each family member shares something they’re grateful for, or encourage your children to write about their gratitude in a journal.

  3. Respect and support your child’s talents and abilities.
    Allowing children to spend time on activities that they are successful in helps to build their self-confidence in their abilities. This can be hard when kids are always home, as their at-home talents may include screen activities like video games or loud activities like music. While setting limits on these activities is important to ensuring that kids are staying active and you’re staying sane, respecting talents in these disciplines is important, particularly while they’re unable to participate in other activities they’re successful in, such as sports and academic extracurriculars.

  4. Help children build empathy for their community.
    A worldwide pandemic is the perfect time to teach students about social awareness and having empathy for vulnerable populations. While volunteering face to face in the community might not be an option right now, encourage your kids to find ways to help and give to those around them during this time of need. Whether they choose to send kind cards to elderly people in nursing homes, raise money for furloughed food service employees, or crochet face mask adapters for front-line medical workers, giving to others has a positive effect on personal health and happiness.

  5. Be an active listener.
    Children and teens are in a vulnerable life stage where they feel emotions strongly and—when they’re stressed—spend a lot of time wondering how things will ever be okay again. It can be a challenge to hear the same woes over and over again without responding with something along the lines of, “Don’t worry about it, everything will be fine,” but research shows that validating kids’ emotions can actually help them accept and understand their feelings on a deeper level.

Focusing on SEL skills is important no matter what the situation is as it helps prepare children to stay calm during crises, experience intense emotions, and handle the ups and downs of everyday life. By supporting SEL at home, you are empowering your child’s social, emotional, and mental health.

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