As social media becomes more prevalent, social norms change, and incidences of suicide, violence in schools, and drug use among teens increase, social and emotional learning (SEL) becomes more important. It’s not enough for students to know the basics of reading, math, science, and social studies. They must also be taught how to interact with others, manage emotions, and make responsible decisions.
What is Social Emotional Learning?
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), there are five key dimensions of SEL:
- Self-Management and Emotion Recognition
- Social Awareness
- Relationship and Social Skills
- Responsible Decision Making
Incorporating SEL at home and in the classroom doesn’t require a lot of special effort or isolated social emotional learning activities. Instead, it involves being intentional about asking questions and structuring activities in a way that gives children and teens a chance to practice building key skills.
Self-awareness involves helping students recognize their own thoughts and emotions, as well as building their awareness of what is expected during key tasks.
To build self-awareness, you can regularly ask students to share their thoughts and opinions on topics. At home, this may be talking to children and teens about how they’re feeling and encouraging them to consider “what if?” situations. In the classroom, you may try to bring in activities such as:
- Anticipation guides
- KWL charts
- Socratic seminars
- Journal prompts
- Reflective journals
In addition to helping children and teens become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, you can improve awareness by explaining how they should behave in a given situation.
For example, if you go out to dinner, you want a child to be more aware of the level of his/her voice and how to act in the situation. To improve that sense of awareness, you may need to point out models of positive behavior or mention positive things the child is doing. For example, “I noticed you’re using a quiet voice. Thank you for remembering to keep your voice down in the restaurant.”
Self-Management and Emotion Recognition
Of course, self-management and emotion recognition directly align with the concept of self-awareness. A child is more aware of his/her actions or emotions may be more likely to better manage those actions and emotions.
A few ways to help children and teens with self-management and emotion recognition include:
- providing positive reinforcement when a child or teen does something well
- noting what you observe (“I see you are feeling angry”)
- developing and following a schedule (created with input from the child/teen)
- breaking down large projects into smaller parts with milestones to meet
- discussing how to respond to scenarios that are likely to crop up
Goal-setting is also a key element of self-management and emotion recognition. You can encourage children and teens to set personal goals and academic goals. For example, a teen may set a personal goal to make the track team and an academic goal to get a 3.3 GPA. Children and teens can also set financial goals, such as saving up for a special toy or a big trip. Don’t just stop at the goal though. Take the learning further by actually developing a timeline, setting milestones, and regularly checking progress towards the goal.
Sometimes students won’t reach their goals or respond positively to situations. In those moments, you should be there to provide support and talk through the situation.
Social awareness involves helping children and teens learn how to interact in various situations, as well as how to show empathy and respect for others. Students live in a diverse world and are likely to encounter new perspectives and different opinions every day.
At school, you can build social awareness by having students:
- work with those who have different interests, backgrounds, etc.
- read texts from a diverse group of authors
- study multiple perspectives on a topic
- participate in class discussions
- show respect by listening to others and valuing their opinions
- modeling how to handle difficult topics or situations
Parents and teachers should never underestimate the power of their own actions. Children and teens are watching to see how the adults in their lives respond to differing opinions, embrace diversity, and show empathy and respect to others. Your response to a trying situation may be a highly teachable moment.
Some children and teens can just go right up to a stranger and start talking. They have the ability to easily form relationships and interact with people. For others, it takes more effort. However, relationship skills goes beyond just being able to make friends. It’s also involves communicating with and listening to others, resisting peer pressure, negotiating conflict, and learning to ask for help.
At home and in the classroom, let children and teens it’s okay to come to you with a problem or to ask for help and respond positively when they do. You may have to remind them a few times or say, “If you want help with that, I’m here to help you.”
Some other ways to build relationship skills include:
- role playing conversations children and teens may have
- refusing to step in when they have a conflict with someone else (unless safety is an issue
- giving them plenty of opportunities to engage in back-and-forth conversation and modeling good listening skills
- holding debates in the classroom
- starting a peer mediation program
- letting children and teens negotiate with you
As parents and teachers, it’s easy to want to make decisions for children and teens. However, to function as adults, they need to learn how to responsibly make decisions. Both at home and in the classroom, you can help promote by responsible decision-making by giving children and teens a chance to make choices. Choices can include:
- rules for the classroom or home
- the type of activity to complete
- what to have for dinner
- what sport or activity to join
Of course, they’re not always going to make the right decision. That’s why another key component of teaching responsible decision-making is providing a safe place for children and teens to fail and learn from their mistakes. If you berate or ridicule them when they make a mistake, they’ll be less likely to take a risk in the future or they’ll become so concerned with perfection that they’ll drive themselves crazy. Instead, respond to mistakes positively and provide support and guidance to help them grow.
Remember, it’s not just students with autism or learning disorders who need to build social and emotional skills. Even straight-A students or seemingly well-adjusted children can benefit from a little more help in this area.
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