A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Social emotional health: Parenting kids to thrive as adults

At its core, parenting is about helping children thrive as adults. An important part about being an adult is having good social emotional health, which is the ability to learn about emotions and ultimately control them.

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.

A person has good social emotional health when they can develop healthy identities, effectively manage emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, nurture supportive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions.

According to Dr. Kelsie-Marie Offenwanger, a Marshfield Children’s psychologist, social and emotional learning (SEL) is a process that can help children and adults learn and apply social and emotional knowledge, skills and attitudes in their daily lives.

Dr. Offenwanger focuses on social emotional health in her work with children and youth. She recalls how as a parent and in working with parents that “one of the best satisfactions is watching your children learn to problem solve and express themselves.”

“Caring for kids’ emotional well-being is as important as caring for their physical health,” said Dr. Kelsie-Marie Offenwanger. “We often see stress and worries masked by aches and pains. This can lead to more doctor’s visits, missed days from school and ultimately avoidance of the issue at hand.”

When explaining social emotional health to parents, Dr. Offenwanger explains it 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.

RELATED DOWNLOAD: Every child is VIVID resource

Dr. Offenwanger and her colleagues blend VIVID into work with these SEL competencies:

Self awareness and management

Self awareness is the practice of understanding whether the emotions, thoughts or actions you are showing others lines up with how you are actually feeling on the inside.

An important tool that helps with self awareness and management is called “Own It and Rate It”. This involves owning our feelings through “I feel” sentences and then rating them on a scale of 1-10.  If anger is high, you could say “I feel angry, it’s a 7.”

RELATED DOWNLOAD: Own it and rate it resource

When working with families, if anger is at 7 or above, that means it’s time to take a break. Having a plan for a strong emotion helps us stay in control and calm down more quickly.

“Instead of hiding our feelings, we want to teach kids that it is okay to talk about what they are thinking. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary,” said Dr. Offenwanger.

Social awareness and relationships

It is important for children to get out and have friendships with their peers because it provides real-world conflicts that your children have to navigate.

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.

“Social interactions provide the foundation for natural learning and consequences. In-person social interactions allow for nonverbal cues to be noticed more regularly and for us to see how our actions affect others. If we say something mean and see tears rolling down one’s cheek it hits differently when compared to typing words onto a screen and thinking that person can handle them,” Dr. Offenwanger said.

Responsible decision making

Teach how to problem solve and understand differences between goal-driven and feeling-driven behavior.

Goal-driven behavior is the act of making a decision based on what you will receive from making that decision – or the goal you will achieve. For example, “I chose to work today because I wanted to be paid money.”

Feeling-driven behavior on the other hand is doing something because of how it will make you feel. For example, “I chose to work with children because I feel that I can empower families and instill hope for the future.”

Responsible decision making is balancing both goal-driven and feeling-driven behaviors so that your goals and how they make you feel are positive reflections of who you are.

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

  • 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.
  • 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.

For questions regarding social emotional health, talk to a Marshfield Children’s provider.

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