As distance learning continues, children are facing new barriers to accessing education and peer relationships daily. They are experiencing a drastic change in their home environment with life circumstances that may have induced and/or increased stress and impacted emotional and physical wellness. One specific worry that I frequently hear from parents, is about their child’s ability to build friendships, practice social skills and engage in social-emotional learning. Such skills are typically introduced in an education setting, but they should not be neglected or lost in a home environment where children are now spending most of their time. The devasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic brings much uncertainty and has emotions flying high for children of all ages. Therefore, it is essential to step back and address social-emotional development at its core so children can successfully engage in activities and life skills that bring meaning to them.
As we turn the page to another year, it allows us to reset, breathe and reflect. As parents, clinicians and educators, we have the unique opportunity to expose and teach our children the annual cultural tradition of setting goals and implementing good habits. In response to the tumultuous experience of 2020, let’s shine importance on self-growth as we encounter the start of a New Year. Let’s use this cultural tradition as an avenue to build our children’s skills.
So, What is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)?
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is defined as a process for helping children gain critical skills for life effectiveness, such as developing positive relationships, behaving ethically and handling challenging situations effectively (Zins et al., 2007). SEL is truly at the core of every life skill learned.
The Social-Emotional Framework is comprised of five core competencies, defined by The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). These competencies include Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills and Responsible Decision-Making.
- Self-Awareness – Identifying emotions, feelings and thoughts. The ability to demonstrate self-confidence and recognize one’s own strengths and weaknesses.
- Self-Management – Managing feelings, impulses and emotions in different situations and turn them into positive actions. Teaching one to self-motivate to achieve personal or group goals. Learning the skills to identify and use strategies to manage and cope with stress and external demands.
- Social Awareness – Learning empathy and compassion and how to take the perspective of others. Teaching kids to appreciate diversity and respect differences in beliefs, culture and traditions between themselves and the people they encounter. Displaying genuine acts of kindness and demonstrating gratitude.
- Relationship Skills – Interacting with others, primarily with family, peers and familiar faces in the community to build and maintain positive relationships and foster trust. The ability to communicate respectfully and listen to others regardless of opinion. Being a team player to work towards effective problem-solving.
- Responsible Decision-Making – Supporting children in making decisions independently will support curiosity, open-mindedness and problem-solving skills. Letting natural unharmful consequences occur will allow for growth and teach children how personal decisions can negatively or positively affect others and their own well-being.
How Can We Embed Social-Emotional Skill Building into Goals for the New Year?
A child is never too young or too old to incorporate the 5 competencies of SEL into daily activities, and it is never too late to implement good habits and set goals. Although the start of the new year sounds like an ideal time, there really is no rule on how many times we should or when to hit the reset button. Depending on your child’s age, helping them to think of goals and implement good habits that are measurable and specific can spark motivation and overall autonomy.
Below are a few suggestions for how to sprinkle some SEL activities into goals and create positive good habits by keeping SEL competencies at the forefront. It may be helpful to review this list with your child and have them choose which activities they would like to focus on this year.
- Read more – Choose books that focus on feelings and emotions, and that can elicit further discussion.
- Learn a new word daily – Begin with words that help describe emotions (happy, sad, scared, mad)
- Learn a new skill (i.e., biking/shoelace-tying/create Lego designs independently/pump on a swing) – Encourage making a vision board to inspire and create confidence and keep as a reminder of activities that they want explore.
- Designate downtime for coloring/drawing and journaling – Create coloring activities with a color legend to indicate and describe one’s feelings in the moment.
- Learn about and participate in different activities that make your body feel calm and relaxed – Set a daily time and a designated space to encourage mindfulness activities, such as yoga, breathing exercises, listening to calming music, journaling/coloring.
- Identify emotional triggers – Work on one specific emotional trigger at a time for a given period (one week, two weeks, etc.). Create goals and alternative reaction options to specific triggers – practice through role-play, social stories or by making fun home videos.
- Social Awareness:
- Display kindness/good deeds to a family member weekly – This could look like picking up someone else’s mess, leaving a post-it note for a family member with a picture, a kind phrase or word. For younger kids learning how to write, you can have a set of stickers that promote kindness. Or work with your child to create a list of premade phrases/words they can reference and chose from to copy onto a post-it note.
- Donate 2 or 3 old toys, books or clothing items monthly – It’s important for children to be part of this process; take the opportunity to discuss compassion and empathy.
- Implement good hygiene habits, such as washing hands before eating, after toileting and playing outdoors – Help them to take perspective on how it may make others feel if we do not try to be safe to stop germs from spreading.
- Relationship Skills:
- Have family game night weekly – This works on team building, trust and eliciting positive interactions with family members.
- Designate a time to email and call a friend/family member weekly to check and see how their day or week went.
- Responsible Decision-Making:
- Compromise on a list of 3 – 5 items your child can be responsible for daily – Make responsibilities age-appropriate and the list visible. Acknowledge responsibilities achieved with a visual motivating symbol.
- Make and discuss a visual list of activities in the home that are safe to do alone and activities that require adult supervision.
Zins, J.E., Bloodworth, M.R., Weissberg, R.P., & Walberg, H.J. (2007). The scientific base linking social and emotional learning to school success, Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 17(2-3), 191-210.
To learn more about NESCA’s new OT clinicians, watch this video interview between NESCA’s Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, and Jessica Hanna, MS, OTR/L.
About the Author
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email email@example.com or call 617-658-9800.