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As a mother to an amazing child on the spectrum, I’ve learned about the ins and outs of social emotional learning. I’ve also learned about how crucial it is when teaching children about inclusivity, compassion and understanding.
Unfortunately, in my research of San Diego County schools I’ve learned that the principles of social emotional learning are not taught everywhere as teachers are pressured to focus on Common Core Standards.
Here’s the good news — parents can easily teach social emotional learning at home. I chatted with Bridget Laird, the CEO of Wings For Kids, a nonprofit that works to improve SEL via after-school programs, teacher-training, and curriculum development for low-income schools nationwide.
Laird explains that social emotional learning “encompasses all the ways for a child to develop their whole selves.”
“That includes, managing emotions, having empathy for others, setting and achieving goals and learning about relationships,” Laird said. “One way I like to describe it for parents or anyone else not familiar with it is the following: school is where kids go to develop their head smarts, and SEL is about getting their ‘heart smarts.’”
Laird, who has a master’s degree in education, said the pandemic has proven that social emotional learning is more important than ever.
“Kids are feeling a wide range of emotions due to school shifting back to in-person or even family loss due to COVID-19,” Laird said. “Kids learning to support each other is important given the varied circumstances under which they return to the classroom. After all, remote learning means many kids may have forgotten what it’s like to work with others or even listen to others. Their relationship skills will need fine tuning and SEL can help.”
How can you instill social emotional learning in your own parenting?
Laird said “the key is about helping them identify their own emotions.”
Laird’s Examples of Social Emotional Learning:
“When I had to take my daughter for her flu shot, I could tell she was nervous. She could also hear another child who’d gone in before her and was crying because of the shot. While we were in the waiting room, I talked her through how she felt. She let me know she was nervous and that caused her stomach to get ‘shaky.’
“I told her to take deep breaths and close her eyes when she felt that way. It was about acknowledging how she felt and giving her tools — even some as small as those — to use as soon as she linked her body’s response to feelings of nervousness or anxiety. In other situations some parents might choose to pretend to receive a shot before telling them “it didn’t hurt” or simply tell their kid to ‘be brave.’ But I prefer a different tactic, one that helps her prepare and cope with her feelings.
“As for my son, he often lost it over his math homework. He struggled with fractions and would always get mad. I had to sit him down to first help him identify his emotions and why he felt frustrated. ‘I’m mad,’ he’d yell and I’d try to dig deeper by asking him why and what caused him to feel this way. Eventually, we were able to come up with a homework plan and calming techniques for whenever he encountered tough fraction exercises.
“Another time when I was working as a Wings For Kids counselor, I’d announced my engagement and one of the 5th-grade boys seemed really put off by it. ‘Oh man,’ he pouted, ‘now [that you’re married] you’re going to be all sad and come to school bruised up.’ I initially laughed it off thinking it was a joke but then decided to pay closer attention to him and his mother whenever she’d come by to pick him up. After some time I sat him down and spoke with him about how I was actually very excited and looking forward to getting married.
“It turns out that what he’d seen of relationships with his own mother was that they were abusive. So in his mind, marriage meant sadness and hurt. So what I focused on was sharing my happiness at getting engaged. It wasn’t about putting his mother down or minimizing his feelings. I instead tried to highlight the positiveness of relationships and helped him understand the power they can have.”
Laird said social emotional learning is versatile and can be taught in many different situations, including in school environments.
“SEL is also beneficial for maintaining healthy relationships,” she said. “Taking a closer look at a lot of adult interactions reveals many fractured relationships that could have been different with more a intentional introduction to SEL at a younger age. Indeed SEL isn’t just for kids and those skills they learn can carry well beyond K-12 into adulthood when they enter the workforce.”
For more information about social emotional learning or Wings for Kids, go to wingsforkids.org.
San Diego Moms is published every Saturday. Have a story idea? Email [email protected] and follow her on Instagram at @hoawritessd.