It’s a buzz term you hear a lot, but what is SEL exactly? In short, SEL, an acronym for Social Emotional Learning, is basically this: young people learn to understand themselves, understand and collaborate with others, and make responsible decisions on their own. Studies have suggested that the resulting outcomes such as confidence and resilience will be more of a predictor of a person’s success and lifelong well-being than any academic test scores.
While the best youth programs train their staff in evidence-based techniques known to promote gains in SEL, you as a parent cannot be expected to host a fulfilling summer camp experience from your dinner table, or suddenly become Mary Poppins while juggling work, remote learning, meals and so on.
However, fear not! Below are 5 tips for encouraging SEL within your home. Because while Mary Poppins status may not be quite within reach, perhaps you can take a few tricks from the unsung heroes at your child’s after-school or summer camp program.
1. Focus on Language
Two major terms that have emerged in youth guidance include asset-based language and growth mindset.
Asset-based language means focusing on a child’s skills and abilities instead of shortcomings. The best way to motivate most youth is by giving them the credit that they CAN succeed. “Why can’t you do your assignments on time?” is a deficit-based approach, whereas “I am confident that you will complete your assignments” is an asset-based approach, which is more likely to inspire your child to succeed at small tasks. At times when we are frustrated, this can be difficult, but practice makes (almost) perfect.
Growth mindset (opposite of fixed mindset) refers to the idea of focusing on how your child can become intelligent by working hard, as opposed to just being smart or being naturally good at something. This is backed up by recent brain studies which suggest that we’re all capable of learning new things and changing our behaviors during our entire lifespan!
By complimenting your child’s efforts instead of their “gifts” and by focusing on their successes rather than struggles, you contribute to their gains in self-efficacy and positive identity, two tremendously important SEL capacities!
2. Rituals & Routines with Purpose
Nothing comforts young people like enjoyable rituals that they can look forward to. Continuing with established activities such as coloring Easter eggs and celebrating birthdays is very important while practicing social distancing. However, it is also easy to create at-home rituals that are more short-term, which hold purpose in helping your child continually grow within. Here are some ideas:
3. The Group Agreement
Do you have a constant battle over a daily routine, or a less-than-favorite household task that just needs to be done? Instead of getting into a game of tug-o-war, continually debating details of how something should or shouldn’t be done, simply take the time to put it in writing! Most importantly, make it collaborative. Give your child a voice. You will be surprised at how often their choice will be to do the right thing when they are asked to give input on a rule or guideline. With some guidance as to what you are trying to accomplish with them, you will raise the bar and watch them meet you there.
Your tone is important in this exercise, and you MUST be careful to listen and compromise – not to lecture or dictate. Think about what you need to accomplish during this time (or times), why this will help your child, and how you can explain non-negotiable parts of the agreement without making them feel like they have no authority over their participation. You can use a poster or a dry-erase board to document these guidelines or invitations. To take it a step further, celebrate this milestone of agreement by decorating it with your family. Remember to have it handy for when you might have to refer to it again. Also, be flexible. Maybe parts of the agreement are not realistic and need to be changed. Work with your family and show your child how to adjust and compromise. That brings us to the next tip ...
4. Role Model!
Perhaps the most important ingredient to building up your child’s capacity to collaborate or manage themselves is not a creative, new ritual or tool, but something that must live in the very fabric of your day: role modeling. Now, we all cannot be perfect humans 24 hours a day, but there is some control we have on how we interact with one another. Resolve conflicts, don’t hide them. Give the benefit of the doubt, respect the other opinion, debate don’t hate! Your child will witness and borrow your techniques.
5. Tell stories, lots of stories!
Stories, new and old. Stories, fictional and nonfictional. Stories made up by you. Stories from a book. Stories told by your child. These are all great resources. Years ago, we had no Netflix. We got our guidance and entertainment from generations upon generations of written and/or spoken word. Even before many religious scriptures there were fireside tales that helped people agree upon social discourse. Whether you confide in the Bible, Dr. Seuss, a relative who likes to tell tall tales via FaceTime, or all of the above – make plenty of time for stories, and make plenty of time to ask probing questions about scenarios that your children may find themselves in one day. When used effectively, stories they can provide an excellent compass for your child’s self-management and social awareness.
Want to share a great at-home tip for supporting SEL? Leave a comment below: