A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Social emotional learning: Help you and your kids thrive

Social Emotional Learning - why it is important

Social emotional learning is a process that can help children and adults learn and apply social and emotional knowledge, skills and attitudes in their daily lives.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) can help you help your children through good times and bad.

According to Mike Schulein, a Marshfield Clinic Health System clinical psychologist, SEL is a process that can help children and adults learn and apply social and emotional knowledge, skills and attitudes in their daily lives.

Schulein focuses on SEL in his work with children and youth. He recalls how as a parent and in working with parents that “one of the greatest satisfactions is watching your children learn to face and handle something.”

SEL helps children and adults develop healthy identities, effectively manage emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, nurture supportive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions.

“Now, more than ever, it’s important to demonstrate empathy and resilience, build relationships across distance especially using technology and resolve to strengthen families, schools and communities,” Schulein said. “During times of intense distress, it’s hard to be aware of what we’re feeling. When we’re not aware of our emotions it’s really hard to make responsible decisions and interact well with others.”

SEL’s core values help and Schulein summarizes them with the phrase “Every child is VIVID”:

V – every child is valuable and deserves to be told that and treated that way.

I – every child is imperfect and deserves to know mistakes are okay.

V – every child is vulnerable and deserves a safe place to be real.

I – every child is immature and needs to experience opportunities to grow up.

D – every child is dependent and deserves to have his or her needs met.

Schulein and his colleagues blend VIVID into work with these SEL competencies:

Self awareness

Consider “feeling” rules, like “I have a right to all my feelings, to say all my feelings, no one has the right to tell me how to feel.”

“When kids are angry and we react to their anger, we miss the chance to look underneath the anger,” Schulein said. “Listening and supporting the right to their angry feelings can help parents see the underneath issue children are struggling with. Parents could learn their children miss their friends, hate COVID, are upset with the adjustment to virtual learning, etc.”

Self management

A key self-management tool is having an anger plan where you rate your anger level. If anger is high, immediately breathe, take a break, go for a walk, listen to calming music, watch humorous videos, journal. Bring the anger intensity down first and then figure out how to handle it.

Social awareness

Helping kids look at things from another person’s point of view – “put yourself in their shoes” – is critical to learning how to get along. It’s a foundation for empathy which supports healthy relationships throughout life.

Relationships skills

COVID precautions require physical distancing, not social distancing. “It’s the language you use that’s important,” Schulein said. Learn and use technology. “Lots of kids know how to game with friends but also encourage them to hang out by drawing together and talking, or watching something on TV while they’re sitting next to each other on a video call.”

Responsible decision making

Teach how to problem solve and understand differences between goal-driven and feeling-driven behavior. Feeling driven, for example, could be saying “I don’t feel like doing it.” “How many of us had to change how we work or see friends because of COVID? Those changes were goal driven. We didn’t want to make those changes and we did them,” Schulein said. “Our kids have to make those changes with how they see their friends, attend school and do their homework. They likely don’t feel like doing it and yet must do it.”

Parents can help support their children especially during tough times by using these tips from the American Psychological Association, Schulein said:

  • Acknowledge this is a completely new situation that no one was prepared for and there’s lots of uncertainty.
  • Practice self-care in 15- or 30-minute increments through the day and help kids do the same. This can include a short walk, calling a friend or watching a funny show.
  • Stay connected with each other, friends and family. Physically distanced does not mean socially distanced. This helps build emotional resiliency so you can support your children’s needs.
  • Keep things in perspective and focus on things that are going well. Notice three good things each day.
  • Create separate “learning” and “relaxing” spaces for children. So, no school work on the bed or in front of their video game devices.
  • Help young people think about ideas on post-high school life and if those ideas will make them happy. Support their experimenting with different ideas on what their future might look like.

As the pandemic continues, SEL’s role becomes increasingly important, Schulein explained. “Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making are critical tools to help be socially connected while physically distanced,” he said.

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