What is social and emotional learning (SEL)?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social emotional learning (SEL) as, “The process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

Why is it important to my child’s education?

Education has long been centered around skills-based teaching and testing. Schools and federal funding have often incentivized reaching certain benchmarks. But SEL is an integral part of a child’s education and human development. Social and emotional intelligence help people become more self-aware, manage their emotions, react to a range of social situations, and build better relationships. All of these skills lead to more responsible decision making.

Students who experience learning disabilities may also experience more emotional hardships in school, which can take a toll on their mental health as well as on their families. Helping students learn to build relationships and navigate their emotions is just as important as the lessons they learn from a textbook.

What are the best ways a parent can facilitate SEL?

The first step for parents looking to facilitate SEL is having an awareness of the SEL and Executive Functioning needs of their children. There are a number of organizations to help schools and parents integrate SEL programs into their teaching, including Second Step, Soul Shoppe, and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). These organizations provide curriculum, training, and ongoing professional development. Schools that educate parents, teachers, school staff, and students on the importance and benefits of SEL find the most success with these programs.

It’s also crucial that parents have an open line of communication with teachers. If you know your child struggles with SEL, be sure to address it with their teacher, talk about their strengths and challenges, and regularly check in to see how they are doing in the classroom. Having this type of transparent relationship with a child’s teacher ensures you are aligned and striving toward the same goals.

How will SEL serve my child over the long-term?

SEL provides students with tools they need to navigate their emotions as well as gain confidence in their learning and relationship-building abilities, all of which will benefit them in the long-term. Having access to SEL programs helps students find success in academics, thrive emotionally, and build healthy relationships – skills which they will carry with them throughout their careers and in their personal lives.

Whereas students who struggle with gaps in their SEL might be less equipped to take feedback, regulate their emotions, and build positive relationships. It is critical to introduce SEL early into a student’s development in order to nurture healthy coping and emotional skills which will benefit them for life.

How does SEL overlap with executive functioning?

Executive Functioning (EF) skills are areas of learning which include adaptable thinking, planning, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory, time management, and organization. EF skills help people navigate the world as they focus their attention, remember instructions, multitask, set and achieve goals, and control impulses. EF skills training combined with SEL help students strengthen their self-awareness and self-management skills, which leads to stronger social awareness and more successful relationship-building. A lack of EF skills and/or low social emotional skills can lead to socially inappropriate behavior, trouble controlling emotions or impulses, becoming easily distracted or having a hard time paying attention. It is important to advocate for both programs for students because when the needs of their SEL and EF skills are not met, students may develop school-based anxiety, have a hard time focusing, and struggle meeting their development goals.

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