Suicide is a leading cause of death in youth ages 10 – 24. Each day in the United States, there are an average of over 3,041 suicide attempts made by young people in grades 9 – 12. These are staggering statistics that can be prevented.
Now, more than ever, it is vital that we address the ‘whole’ child, their social and emotional well-being and this learning begins at home. “Family life is our first school for emotional learning,” states Daniel Goleman, the author of the groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence. Through family life “we learn how to feel about ourselves and how others will react to our feelings; how to think about these feelings and what choices we have in reacting; how to read and express hopes and fears.”
Social and emotional learning is a process which allows children to acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
Social and emotional learning is a powerful way to help children become healthy, caring, and competent.
If children learn to express emotions constructively and engage in caring and respectful relationships before and while they are in their lower elementary grades, they are more likely to avoid depression, violence, and other serious mental health problems as they grow older.
Here are 5 key skills social-emotional learning develops:
Self-awareness involves understanding one’s own emotions, personal goals, and values. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations, having positive mindsets, and possessing a well-grounded sense of self-efficacy and optimism. High levels of self-awareness require the ability to recognize how thoughts, feelings, and actions are interconnected.
Self-management requires skills and attitudes that facilitate the ability to regulate one’s own emotions and behaviors. This includes the ability to delay gratification, manage stress, control impulses, and persevere through challenges in order to achieve personal and educational goals.
Social awareness involves the ability to understand, empathize, and feel compassion for those with different backgrounds or cultures. It also involves understanding social norms for behavior and recognizing family, school, and community resources and supports.
Relationship skills help students establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships, and to act in accordance with social norms. These skills involve communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking help when it is needed.
Responsible Decision Making
Responsible decision-making involves learning how to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse settings. It requires the ability to consider ethical standards, safety concerns, accurate behavioral norms for risky behaviors, the health and well-being of self and others, and to make a realistic evaluation of various actions’ consequences.
Here are 5 ways you can strengthen your child’s social-emotional well-being:
1. Create a trusting, safe connection with your child.
Spend time with them and talk about anything that comes to their mind. Offering a safe space or time for children to talk to you assures them that you care. Ask children how they feel. When you ask how your child feels, the message is that feelings matter and you care. Then, stay open to listening without judgment so they know you are a safe space for them to express themselves. Acknowledging and exploring their feelings help children feel understood.
2. Give children choices and respect their wishes.
When children have an opportunity to make choices, they learn essential problem-solving skills. Giving children ways to express preferences and make decisions shows that their ideas and feelings matter. Rather than helping solve a challenge, offer encouragement and help them believe in themselves. Ask questions or make statements that allow your child to find their own answers. It can be as simple as ‘I wonder what you’ll do’ or “What do you think you can do in this situation?” Positive encouragement from a parent can go a long way in building your child’s self-esteem and sense of optimism.
3. Avoid humiliating or mocking your child.
This behavior can be damaging and lead to a lack of self-confidence and, in turn, problems with schoolwork, illness, and trouble getting along with friends. Unfair criticism and sarcasm also hurts the bond of trust between children and parents. Be mindful of how you speak to your children. Give them the room to make mistakes as they learn new skills.
4. Create a ‘kind identity”.
Ask children to reflect. If you notice them being empathetic towards another child who is upset, ask your child to talk about what they were feeling and why they behaved in the way that they did. Be sure to encourage this type of behavior by saying, “I liked how you were kind to Billy when he was feeling sad.”
5. Teach healthy ways to express, process and manage emotions.
There are many effective techniques and exercises. Find the ones that connect with you and your child. The goal is to help your child promote healthy expressions of their emotions.
Mindfulness exercises, such as guided breathing, stretching, and movement activities, can be extremely beneficial.
Reflective activities, like journaling or meditation, where children sit still while focusing on becoming aware of their surroundings and posture, can help them unpack their emotions and feelings.
Listening to music or creating art can help relieve stress and strengthen relaxation. Research shows the arts promote creativity, social development, personality adjustment, and self-worth. You can learn more about Free2Luv’s art empowerment programs, the Free2BeME Project here.
The goal of social-emotional learning is to help youth develop more positive attitudes toward themselves and others, enhance self-efficacy, confidence, persistence, empathy, and connection, and develop a strong sense of purpose.
It is vital for families, communities, and schools to work together to raise confident, empowered, and balanced children. It takes a village to minimize bullying and teen suicide and begins with each of us modeling kindness, acceptance, inclusion, and healthy emotional expression. Let us start today.