These days, the phrase: “socio-emotional learning” seems to be popular regarding kids and educational settings. This is a good thing. Research supports the idea that a student’s academic experience is not just influenced by instruction, but also by their “school climate, relationships with peers/teachers, and their sense of belonging” (National Education Association, 2017). This concept is not only important in youth settings such as schools but is also promoted in adult settings such as workplaces.
The definition for “socio-emotional” learning 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” (casel.org, 2020).
There is a lot to unpack in this definition. A child’s ability to gain these skills is dependent on many factors such as: the child’s general upbringing and environment, the child’s familial relationships, the actions and attitudes of their family members, experiences, personality, developmental level, among many other things. Even if children are having a rough time understanding or utilizing socio-emotional tools, there are things that adults can do to help children become comfortable with these important skills. Below is a list of different recommendations to increase your child’s understanding of socio-emotional skills. Some of them are my own suggestions and others are suggestions I found online as resources.
Games – There are games and activities available online and in print that can introduce children to socio-emotional tools that are helpful in identifying and managing emotions. “Centervention” is a great website with over 75 different free resources. Here is the link: https://www.centervention.com/social-emotional-learning-activities/
There are also some great games that practice socio-emotional skills for purchase. I found an article that lists 16 different games for a classroom or a homeschool setting that relate to emotions. Here is the link: https://proudtobeprimary.com/social-emotional-learning-games/
Family member support – I try to find “teachable moments” regarding empathy in our household. Whether it is a dad who is tired from working all day, sister who is frustrated with homework, brother who is irritated by sister not sharing her toys, or mom who is stressed from dealing with her various roles: I try to remind the other family members of what the most troubled family member is going through. When one of us is upset or low on patience, I remind the other family members of how this person is feeling at that moment, what led up to those feelings, and ways we can help them. Example: my husband has a moving company. When he is exhausted at the end of the night and the kids are upset that he is not doing what they want, I say to them something like, “Guys. Dad moved an entire family out of a house with three flights of stairs today. He picked up and moved everything in their house today. He also had to give directions to all his workers. He also had to make the homeowner happy with their questions and concerns. After that, he had to rush home to make sure he saw you guys before bed. Can you imagine how tired he is? His body is tired, and his brain is tired. Maybe we should give him a little space to rest and relax. Tomorrow he is off work and he will be nice and rested.”
I do my best to lay out everything that builds up to someone feeling the way they do so that it is easier to understand.
Discuss what empathy means – We live in a neighborhood that is impoverished and culturally diverse. We are surrounded by homeless camps. We also have many neighbors who speak a variety of different languages. Because of our surroundings, we talk a lot about empathy. My kids and I often talk about how hard it must be for the homeless people to deal with the effects of the weather, lack of shelter, and lack of food and clothing. This is another conversation that usually begins with, “can you imagine?”
We also encounter many neighbors who speak non-English languages, and at times, we have seen people who simply cannot communicate because the person on the other end of their conversation did not understand their language. We have seen this in the grocery stores, banks, the post office, etc. It feels awful to not be able to help. Many times, we have tried to non-verbally help, such as gesturing or pointing, with little success. In these situations, I have asked the kids “can you imagine what it would be like to live somewhere and people didn’t understand what you were saying?”
We have also discussed the idea that kids in our kiddos’ schools may be dealing with poverty and have clothes or food that looks different from other kids. We have talked about how important it is to be kind, and to never make someone feel bad about their things.
In our family, having empathy means that you are looking out for your fellow man and you are always trying to help and advocate for others if you are able.
Helping kids to develop friendships – Although kids will do a lot of their own friendship building, families can help kids practice their social skills from an early age. Research has shown that teaching kiddos things like 1) active listening 2) paying attention to body language/facial expressions 3) playing games that are non-competitive 4) finding common interests/working together toward a common goal, 5) trying to let kids problem-solve without adult assistance (older kids, not toddlers), can help kiddos to form friendships (Dewar, 2013).
An important note that I did not see on this reference is for the adults to model good behavior. Adults with positive, healthy friendships are a good example to set for their kiddos. Another good idea is to present opportunities for your kids to develop friendships such as enrolling kids in extracurricular activities they are interested in or joining sports teams.
Feelings Chart – A feelings chart is exactly what it sounds like: a chart with a variety of feelings. Students/kiddos can identify how they are feeling daily by referencing a feelings chart upon the start of their school day. This is a good tool because it teaches kiddos to 1) identify and label how they are feeling 2) it gives their educator an opportunity to gage how the kiddo is feeling that day and navigate a fitting approach to them. There are many of these charts for purchase, but one website “teacherspayteachers.com” have a variety of free feelings charts. Here is the link: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Browse/Price-Range/Free/Search:feelings+chart+for+kids
The “Oregon School District” website has beneficial resources regarding socio-emotional learning. There are SEL (socioemotional learning) coaches available for families or teachers, curriculums, and a “parent toolkit.” Here is the link: https://www.oregonsd.org/Page/5393
Socioemotional learning is important, but it seems especially important right now in these times of a pandemic and racial tension regarding the “Black lives matter” movement, protests, and police brutality. Children are likely feeling fear, frustration, and overall angst due to these controversial and confusing times. Giving them the power to identify and deal with their array of feelings in a healthy way is important. There are tons of resources out there online and in print. Best of luck to you all in helping your children utilize their socioemotional skills.