Did you know that suicide is the second leading cause of death in those 10 to 24-years-old? Every day in the U.S. there are over 3,000 suicide attempts by high school kids.1 Fortunately, these statistics can be reduced through Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). And, it is imperative that the importance and effectiveness of SEL are understood and implemented as the method has proven to be an effective tool to prevent youth suicide.
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.2 There are five core areas of SEL, each of which include a handful of skills that allow kids to calm themselves when angry, make friends, resolve conflicts respectfully, and make ethical and positive choices.
Social and emotional learning focuses on 5 core areas that kids and adolescents can develop which will help them become healthy, caring, competent, and confident. The 5 areas are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The skills found within these core areas aren’t anything new, and many of us have an idea as to what they entail. But our kids don’t always know they have the power to build up these skills, so it’s crucial that we help them.
Responsible Decision-Making – They learn to make good decision choices by considering the ethical standards, safety concerns, appropriate social norms, respect for others, and the likely consequences of various courses of action. They learn to apply these decision-making skills at home, at school, and in social situations, which leads to their motivation of contributing to the well-being of those around them.
Kids, especially adolescents, are stressed out – even more so than adults. They’re dealing with issues at school, at home, and with friends and peers. Involvement in sports or other activities can add pressure. Can they keep up with their peers? Can they stay on top of their schoolwork? Can they stay involved and do well in their extracurricular activities? Do they have time to do their chores? And then, of course, there are pressures that stem from social media and our entire digital and media culture. How do they handle their feelings when they see on social media that they weren’t invited to a party where all their friends seemed to have been invited? Social and emotional learning helps them effectively navigate these difficulties while at the same time improving their mindsets.
SEL is essential because it teaches our kids how to deal with negative circumstances in the most positive, effective, and empathetic way possible. Through SEL, kids harness positive life skills and engage in positive thinking and behaviors, all of which are crucial in promoting mental health and preventing anti-social behaviors. In addition, SEL skills are critical in youth suicide prevention.
Risk factors when SEL isn’t applied
What are the risk factors if a child doesn’t develop SEL skills, and what signs should you look for? When SEL skills haven’t been developed or are stalled in the development process, children will begin to show signs of psychological and physical distress. Without SEL skills, a child is more prone to outbursts of anger, making poor choices, being unkind to others, and inflicting self-harm. Many risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, bullying of others, and absenteeism from school or extracurricular activities have also been linked to poor SEL skills. Their schoolwork may begin to suffer and they may lose friends due to the inability to communicate and interact with them effectively.
It’s important to stay mindful of a child’s behavior. If you notice that their grades are dropping, they’re getting in more trouble at school or with law enforcement, or they’re having emotional outbursts, these could be signs of underdeveloped SEL skills. Also, be mindful of a child who is showing signs of isolation. SEL skills allow a child to deal with stressors in a positive way, and when that doesn’t occur, often times a child will hide away in their room because they feel they just can’t handle being around people or facing the world. It is absolutely crucial that we stay aware of a child’s behavior changes; it could be lifesaving.
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.3
When it comes to our children, whether they are toddlers or teens, it is us who can build them up and help them increase their social and emotional learning skills. And, there are several different ways we can do this, here are ten ways:
Words have a massive effect, and for kids, it’s particularly important that we understand just how much our words affect their minds. Now they might not always remember the exact words we say, but they will remember how our words made them feel. It’s those feelings that then lead to how they relate to the world. If they feel our words are critical and judgmental, they could put up a wall of defensiveness and disconnect from others, or they could lash out unnecessarily. On the other hand, if they feel our words are encouraging and appreciating, they may feel supported and connected, and this helps them develop relationships and to show encouragement and openness to others.
Don’t try to hide your imperfections. Instead, own and embrace them because by doing so, it will show kids that it’s okay to falter or get things wrong. We all have those days where we just feel “off,” and if we acknowledge it, kids can feel more at ease talking to us when they make mistakes or have their own “off” days. Learning to be self-aware of imperfections fosters a healthy attitude.
If we show kindness throughout our own lives to everyone, kids will begin to value that quality. Be sure to make kindness a priority, as it’s the foundation to strong connections with others. It’s not enough to just to tell kids to be kind; we must do as we preach. When kids show kindness, they build their social awareness skills while creating connections with others.
First, you need to realize there’s a difference between hearing and listening. Listening means you are processing what is being said to you versus just hearing the words float in one ear and out the other. When you’re listening, prove it by saying something like, “So, what you’re saying is _____. I understand that.” Engage in active listening several times a day with them. It’s not just good for you, but it’s great for them because they’ll feel connected and valued. And not only that, but they will learn how to listen to others.
We all have different points of view, but it’s how we show disagreement that can make a huge impact on a child. Don’t shut them down when they disagree with you. Let them voice their disagreement, show them you understand, and encourage the conversation. They’ll learn that understanding someone doesn’t mean they have to agree, and having a constructive disagreement teaches them how to respect the opinions of others.
Empathy means understanding and sharing the feelings of others. The absolute best way for children to learn this is by watching you. Acknowledge their feelings – actually say to them what they are feeling – and let them know you get it. If they’re feeling sad, say, “You seem really sad, and I understand.” Doing this for them lets them experience how empathy can make someone feel better.
Our days can be a whirlwind of different feelings, and it’s no different for kids. First, show them it’s okay to feel the feelings by sharing your feelings, when appropriate. In other words, don’t dump your problems on them. But if you’re feeling sad, let them see you’re sad. This may give them the courage to show their feelings instead of pushing them down. And when they do share their feelings, don’t try to talk them out of feeling that way. Just let them get their feelings out, because by doing so, it can help prevent depression or anger at the world. Talk to them about how they feel and explain what feelings do and why they occur. The more they understand their feelings, the more self-aware they become.
Don’t make all the decisions for your child. Let them pick out their clothes. Let them decide what kind of dessert they’d like. Let them choose which chores they want to do first. And most importantly, respect their decisions. Be open to allowing them to make many different decisions throughout their days. When children have an opportunity to make choices, they learn essential problem-solving skills. Giving them ways to express preferences and make decisions shows that their ideas and feelings matter. But just because you’re letting them make their own decisions doesn’t mean you leave them to fend for themselves. Talk to them and ask what they’re thinking. Doing this gives them encouragement and support, which builds their self-esteem.
If you make a mistake, own up to it and work to make it right. Most importantly, let kids see you take responsibility. Trying to hide a mistake can teach a child to embrace shame. But if we teach them ownership of the mistakes, it leads them to a position of strength. Conversely, if we are the one who was wronged, show them how to forgive. This is especially important if the child comes to you apologizing for something. Teach them how to forgive and they’ll be able to forgive others.
If children learn to express emotions constructively and engage in caring and respectful relationships, they are more likely to avoid depression, violence, and other serious mental health problems as they grow older.
There are several effective techniques and activities that help you connect with your child and promote a healthy expression of their emotions. Consider mindful, reflective, and relaxation activities.
There are a lot of great books filled with information and advice about SEL and what you can do to help your child. Plus, there’s a wealth of story books that kids can relate to. Here are a few finds:
 Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (2012)