How Families Can Support Social-Emotional Learning at Home

Micah Bachemin
Micah Bachemin
Elementary School Principal; M.Ed. in Education Administration

Schools play a critical part in developing the whole child, and most invest funding annually to support character education programs. These programs focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) and provide opportunities for students to increase their emotional intelligence quotient. For children to grow into self-aware, respectful adults who can manage their emotions, make responsible decisions, and resolve conflicts, this learning must continue at home.

Recognize Effort, Not Ability

Even within one household, no two children are the same, and it can be difficult for parents to accept that not every child will have the same abilities in all areas. Having one child who is musically gifted while another has difficulty keeping rhythm can give a parent fits! However, in a time when strangers, via social media, have such a huge influence on how children view themselves, it’s increasingly important for parents to recognize each child’s unique talents and to respect the differences between their children’s abilities. Applauding children for trying to achieve, even when their level of achievement is not quite what was hoped for, goes a very long way in helping a child’s self-esteem and nurturing their intrinsic motivation to try new things.

Allow for More Autonomy

Adults are instinctively programmed to make decisions that protect our children. Just by living we have experienced things that allow us to know what’s best in many instances, and we want to tell children what’s best for them. It’s hard for some parents to determine when it’s okay for children to start making some of their own decisions, but allowing children to start making decisions as soon as they have the inclination to do so is a great way for children to learn at an early age how to examine issues from more than one angle and to make choices based on what’s in their best interest.

Who really wants to fight with their child about wearing a pajama top, a tutu, and rain boots to the store? Well, giving kids this same kind of decision-making power when it comes to more important things like whether to participate in karate or take that extra Spanish class gives them the sense that their voice and feelings are important, and that you trust them. With a parent’s guidance, children came become good at making decisions pretty early on.

Model Problem-Solving Strategies

If parents are going to give kids the autonomy to make more decisions, there will undoubtedly be times when those decisions lead to problems. Children having the skills to solve problems is just as important as having the skills to make good decisions, and because parents are their children’s first teachers, it’s important that parents show their children the correct way to resolve issues, especially conflicts with others.

Solving problems is what humans naturally do in order to get their needs met. However, when kids don’t have the language to express their thoughts and feelings in ways that allow others to understand them, they aren’t able to have their needs met, which can lead to behaviorally inappropriate responses and conflicts with others.

To help children learn how to resolve conflict in a constructive and non-violent way, parents can model self-talk strategies when negative situations arise to give kids language to associate with their feelings and strategies for maintaining control of their emotions. Self-talk coupled with explicit modeling of listening strategies teaches children the best ways to interact with others whenever a conflict does arise. When kids have the opportunity to work through the problem-solving process with their parents, their ability to think critically on their own is improved.

Engage in Family Activities

Creating experiences as a family builds children’s self-esteem, creates lots of content for conversations, and allows parents to watch how their kids approach situations and interact with others. Observations such as these are usually thought of in terms of classrooms and school playgrounds, but it’s important for a parent to recognize how their children react when they meet new children, how they respond when they’re frustrated in what should be a stress-free environment, and what garners their attention the most when they could be paying attention to anything. Knowing these habits can give parents lots of information about their children and help them to see areas that need refinement. These observations also help parents know which efforts to praise most, whether kids are ready to make decisions, and how good their kids are at solving problems independently.

Ask Questions

Growing up can be quite confusing at times, and children don’t always know how to share what they’re thinking or if it’s even okay to share their feelings. When parents ask questions and then really listen to the answers, children know that their feelings are valid and it’s okay to share them. Asking open-ended questions that require more than a one-word response gets children to truly think about what they’re feeling and requires them to figure out a way to articulate it. Additionally, asking questions and intentionally creating a space for listening is a natural way to build relationships, so when parents start conversations by asking questions, they are modeling an approach their children can take to form relationships with their peers.

All children begin to learn at home, and social and emotional learning is no exception. Parents intentionally implementing social and emotional learning activities and strategies at home goes a long way in children’s success at school.

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