Committee for Children Blog

Let’s Talk SEL: Parents, This Is for You!

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social emotional learning, SEL, parenting, grade school, Social-emotional skills

Parents, are you wondering what all the talk is about SEL and social-emotional skills? Chances are you’re already doing a lot to support your child with these skills, so keep reading to make additional connections about what it is, why it’s important, and what resources you can turn to if you’re interested in doing more.

Why do youth need social-emotional skills?

Think of a time when your child had a falling out with a friend or a difficult time fitting in socially. Maybe it was a time you received a phone call from the principal as a result of a situation at school, or when your child came home from school sad or upset, or couldn’t sleep because of an incident at school. Or was it a situation where your daughter or son could not finish a group academic project because of a problem with classmates?

Unfortunately, youth often have these and other types of negative experiences. Parents are there to help in any way they can, but over the long-term social and emotional skills can minimize the worst of these experiences and make youth’s experiences in life easier to manage.

With social-emotional skills, they can establish rewarding relationships with others, maintain meaningful relationships, and handle difficult social situations. They can manage times of high stress, and during times of anger, keep from launching into destructive actions they may regret later.

What are social-emotional skills?

Social-emotional skills are the strategies one has for managing strong emotions, navigating relationships, working effectively with others, solving difficult problems, and making responsible decisions.

Social-emotional skills pave the way for positive life experiences. When these skills are taught and supported, youth are more likely to succeed academically and have a positive attitude toward self and school, and less likely to experience emotional distress and use drugs.

Where and when are they used?

Social-emotional skills are needed and used from early childhood through adulthood. There is never a time they aren’t needed. We use these skills many times a day, navigating sibling and parent-child relationships, friendships, social and academic situations at school, our jobs, and anything we do in our communities. We need them for in-person interactions and even when communicating by phone or email.

For example, if a friend texts me about having an extremely bad day, I use my skills for empathizing when responding to her. If I don’t recognize and acknowledge her feelings and instead tell her to “toughen up,” I may not keep that friend.

What’s SEL? Is it different from social-emotional skills?

SEL stands for social-emotional learning. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, it’s the process by which we learn and apply social-emotional knowledge, attitudes, and skills for understanding and managing emotions, setting and achieving goals, establishing and maintaining relationships, and feeling and showing empathy for others. Second Step is considered an SEL program because it provides a process for learning and practicing many important social-emotional skills. This SEL: What and Why video explains SEL in less than three minutes.

As a parent, how can I learn more about this and support it at home and in my kid’s school?

Two ways to support social-emotional development at home are through the SEL Passport Challenge and with books. This reading list includes books on topics such as friendship, cooperation, bullying, dealing with anger, and problem-solving. For parents and caregivers of children ages two through five, check out this Sesame Street–Committee for Children resource on navigating challenges, and if you are a parent of a teen, look into ParenTeenConnect to support your teen with real issues at home. For more information, check out this list of curated blog posts on Edutopia.org.

How does SEL help prevent bullying, or to protect kids from abuse?

Bullying thrives in situations where bystanders (those who know about and witness bullying) don’t stand up for those who are being bullied or don’t report the bullying. Students who are bystanders to bullying can use social-emotional skills, such as assertiveness, to stand up to and report bullying when they see it. Because having friends can be a protective factor against bullying, friendship skills are another important social-emotional skill to have.

Safety skills, confidence, skills for identifying one’s own feelings (for example, recognizing when something someone says does not feel “right”), and assertiveness skills such as refusing and reporting can make the difference in a potential child abuse situation because they build capacity to recognize a situation is not okay, to say “no” and to report it.

Although social-emotional skills alone don’t in themselves prevent bullying or child abuse, they’re one of many factors that can affect these types of situations, especially when an adult isn’t present.

If your child’s school hasn’t already reached out to you about social-emotional learning, start a conversation. Ask the staff what they’re doing to promote SEL and how you can get involved. Share what you’re doing to promote SEL with your child at home.