A child’s learning environment must be about more than science and math, or reading and writing. Social-emotional learning, or SEL, teaches children to assess and manage their feelings, allowing them to foster relationships and make ethical decisions.
Social-emotional learning’s inclusion in school programs has been a target of recent criticism among conservative politicians and pundits, which has unfortunately misrepresented what it is and how it can benefit children. At its base, the SEL framework consists of a series of socio-emotional competencies that help make up a person’s emotional quotient (EQ), or their abilities to identify and regulate emotions, control impulses, and empathize and communicate with other people.
While myriad research has confirmed the positive correlation between SEL and academic performance, the benefits extend well beyond the classroom and a child’s formative years. These types of learned “soft” skills – things like integrity, respect, and adaptability – are sometimes referred to as “people skills” or “durable skills,” and are regularly touted by employers as highly desirable and even essential to success in many jobs and workplace environments.
The most effective educators possess and practice these skills themselves. They are aware of the benefits of social-emotional learning and weave SEL practices throughout the daily fabric of their teachings, whether or not they do so as part of an explicit SEL curriculum. These practices enable teachers to use familiar situations to engage with children in real time and give authentic feedback that prompts them to reflect on their behavior. Proactively responding to the social and emotional needs of students has been the hallmark of a successful teacher long before there was a fancy and politically loaded term for it.
While helpful at school and in the workplace, these skills are just as relevant at home. Parents and caregivers can play major roles in fostering children’s social-emotional development at home by creating a caring and supportive environment, modeling these skills themselves and simply having regular discussions about feelings, emotional reactions, personal relationships, goal setting and problem solving. Our parents, after all, are our first and often most influential teachers.
Families can also seek out extracurricular programs that specifically purport to reinforce these durable skills, and are taught by staff that understands them. The type of activity – be it enrollment in a sports league, a series of classes, or a week of summer camp – is not as important as its intended purpose. These should be environments that build a child’s self-awareness, self-management, and decision-making skills. By making an active investment in their child’s emotional growth both in school and outside of it, parents will improve the likelihoods of their child’s personal and professional success and satisfaction.
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