Updated: Feb 11, 2021
SEL, or Social and Emotional Learning, is defined by CASEL as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” In layman’s terms, it’s essentially learning how to handle being a creature who has emotions and whose existence requires social interaction.
Traditionally, this kind of learning has been left to each individual’s own devices. A child was raised with rules and expectations for what to do and how to act, but any social or emotional lessons are taught through trial by fire. Think of a time when you shared something that was important to you, and someone, probably multiple people, laughed at you or your interests. This event was likely followed by a sense of dread, embarrassment, and/or self-loathing. And you learned to be careful about what, or with whom, you shared personal information and interests. Without SEL tactics, instances like this are buried in the psyche, unresolved. A child takes their social lumps, feels bad for a few days, then tries their best to never do That™ again.
Wash, rinse, repeat for every interaction like this, and that child may very well end up unhappy, unsure of themselves, and generally hiding the most authentic pieces of their mind by the time they graduate high school.
But what if this cycle can be broken?
In this video from Edutopia regarding SEL, retired superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District Carlos Garcia says, “If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’re always gonna get what we always got. Is that good enough?” And it’s not. The methods of the past will simply not work in the present day, when collaboration and empathy are continuously replacing the old values of individuality and success at the expense of others. Our kids need better. Our kids deserve better. So how is “better” accomplished?
Firstly, it’s not a quick or easy solution. SEL tactics need to be in place in school and at home, they need to be consistent, and they need to be long-term. At NuMinds, our Inspirators seek to embody respectful and empathetic communication, responsible behavior and decision making, and effective, respectful conflict management. (Did you notice that “respectful” is in their twice? It’s that important.) We take the time, when necessary, to address student concerns that lie outside of the academic lesson of the day – because we know that the learning process goes far beyond the information we’re providing for them. This mindset, however, applies not only to our interactions with our students, but also with parents, school officials, and each other.
Be a good listener. This is one of the best ways to help your child. Seek to understand what they’re going through, and respect them and their feelings through that process.
Model the behaviors you seek. Children are constantly repeating the behaviors and words of the people closest to them. The more you embody respectful communication, empathy, and responsible decision making, the more of each you will see reflected in your child.
Nurture your child’s self-esteem. Give your child age-appropriate responsibilities as early as you can. Be sure to set clear expectations with them regarding task completion!
Respect differences. I cannot stress enough how vital this is. Your child will be different from you in some capacity. Embrace those differences, and support them in their interests without comparing them to anyone else. They are them, and that is good.
Take advantage of support services. In times of family crisis, your child may feel more comfortable talking to someone other than you, regardless of how close you are to them. There are services that can help you and your family through these times, whether through school counselors or other social services.
When you care for another living creature, such as a plant or a pet, you have to pay close attention to it in order to know what it needs. Are its leaves drooping or losing their color? That’s an indication that it is starting to wilt, to die, from a lack of something: sunlight, water, or proper nutrients in the soil. The same can be said for each of us, child or adult. Pay attention to the minute details of the people around you: how they enter a room; how they talk to others; how they talk about themselves; or even if they talk at all. And if it seems like something is missing for them, that they are wilting, check in with them. Avoid asking, “How are you?” because that question is too easy to deflect. Instead, try, “Is there anything I can do for you?” to make them think about what they might need, and if you can provide it. And even if there isn’t something to be done, the question is enough, because it provides what we all need: a connection, no matter how small.