By now, you may have heard about these buzzwords in education: social and emotional learning (SEL). Many schools embed SEL into their curriculum, or use a specific SEL curriculum, because of its proven benefits. SEL is the process through which children understand and manage emotions, achieve goals, understand and show empathy, develop positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
As parents, we have the unique opportunity to set the stage for SEL in our homes. We want our kids to be resilient, empathetic, and to choose kindness when presented with a difficult decision. Although you might feel pressured to focus more on math and literacy learning than your child’s emotional health, introducing simple at-home SEL practices will help your child thrive at home and at school. And guess what? This foundation will support math and literacy learning for years to come.
Check out these five SEL practices to help your child develop a strong foundation in understanding their emotions and the emotions of others:
Spend Time Together
Children are born with the need to connect with people around them. Positive relationships with parents and caregivers help children feel safe and secure. Our children need us and they value our time and undivided attention, so put down your device and take the time to get to know your child. Value their interests by playing games they enjoy, taking them to the park, and discussing what’s going on in their world. Some questions you can ask to make the most out of your time together include:
- What did you like about today? What would you change about today?
- What would you like to do next time we spend time together?
Build Your Child’s Kindness Muscles
The kindness jar is a practice I used when I was a classroom teacher. Now I see the monumental benefits of this practice with my own child. Before you begin this practice, you’ll need a plastic container, notecards or sentence strips, and markers.
What To Do:
- Gather your family together in the living room or kitchen and bring out the jar (labeled “Kindness Jar”), the notecards or sentence strips, and markers.
- Ask your child what the word kindness means. Discuss ideas as a family.
- Explain to your child that, every night, each family member will have a chance to talk about one kind thing they did or someone else did that day.
- Provide examples and discuss non-examples (e.g., holding the door for someone, helping someone when they fell down and hurt themselves, or listening to a parent instead of running away).
- Write an example of something kind on the notecard (or sentence strip) and place it in the jar.
- Repeat this process daily until the kindness jar is full.
- Once the kindness jar is full, decide on a fun family activity that promotes connection. Some ideas include: a picnic at the park, a slumber party in the living room or in a tent under the stars, a movie night at home or at a theater, or a dance party with healthy snacks.
Listen To Your Child
Feeling like you are racing against the clock can prevent you from being totally present with your child. It’s important to dedicate specific times throughout the day to check in with your child to see how they are doing. When my child is busy playing, I often miss important cues that tell me she’s hungry (she starts to visibly show frustration and/or anger with her body and words). Plan out specific times throughout the day to check in with your child and ask them if they need your support. Rephrasing what your child says is a great way to show you are listening and you truly care!
Create A Home Where All Feelings Are Welcome
When parents are busy trying to check things off their to-do lists, kids can feel ignored and have nowhere to go when they need to talk about big feelings. Make a point to discuss feelings as a family. Share situations like, “Today at work I had a really hard time understanding a new project. I felt really nervous about doing something wrong. Have you ever felt that way?” This will encourage your child to share their feelings about situations that happen at school, with friends, or with their siblings. Remind them that you are there to talk, and all of their feelings matter.
Model Self-Care Practices
Every parent has had one of those days. You know those days…the days where everything goes completely wrong. Instead of bottling up your feelings, model self-care practices. Your child will benefit from seeing you take care of yourself and deal with big feelings in a healthy way. Some self-care practices for adults include: journaling about your feelings, talking to another adult about the situation and reflecting on next steps, exercising or doing yoga, taking a long walk, practicing mindfulness and deep belly breaths, or playing board games with your family. Encourage your child to partake in self-care practices when they’ve had a hard day, too.
Some self-care practices for children include:
- Make a calm down bottle to manage stress.
- Design a peace corner in your home for your child to retreat to when they are upset.
- Provide your child with access to awesome books that show characters dealing with big feelings such as The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall, or Come With Me by Holly McGhee.
- Invite your child to create their own feelings chart to hang in their room. Encourage your children to use the chart to help them figure out how they might be feeling and what they might need.
For more tips on how to support you child in school this year, check out Education.com’s Parent’s Guide for your child’s grade level.
By April Brown (M.Ed), writer and education consultant based in Austin, TX.