July 12, 2022

How to Integrate Social-Emotional Learning in Children?

group of children showing healthy friendship

You’ve heard the buzz about social-emotional learning (SEL) – that it’s key to helping children succeed at school and in life. But have you ever wondered how you can start integrating SEL in your classroom?

One of the best ways to get started is by learning about the different ways that you can teach children how to handle their emotions, build strong relationships, take care of themselves, and show empathy towards others. Here are 16 ideas to get you started.

16 Best Ways to Integrate Social-Emotional Learning in Children

group of children showing healthy friendship

 

1) Focus on What is Important

When it comes to integrating social-emotional learning into our kids’ lives, it may seem like we’re trying to achieve a million things at once. But when it comes down to what’s important, there are only four:

self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills.

Through intentional strategies that focus on each of these areas children can learn how to manage their emotions effectively as well as be more considerate of others.

2) Communicate Frequently

Parents, schools, and communities must work together to ensure children learn social-emotional skills at home and school. Communicating frequently helps all parties feel connected and responsible for a child’s success.

Have you ever sat down with your children at the end of each day and asked them about their day? These 30-minute check-ins allow kids to reflect on their behavior and social interactions so they can learn from mistakes or successes as well as build stronger relationships with friends.

children interacting with each other reaching to the sky

A great place to start is by asking about things like school, teachers, peer relationships, family events or even chores completed during that day. In order to check in with your children effectively you’ll want to follow these three simple steps:

1) Start with an I message –

Let your child know how you are feeling and what’s going on for you at home (e.g., I worry when we don’t talk much at dinner time.

When I see that you’re sad it makes me feel sad too). This helps kids learn how to check in with others, which is an important social-emotional skill.

2) Make sure they have time to respond –

Ask open-ended questions like Tell me about today or How was school? What did you do today? Help them reflect by asking to follow up questions such as What happened next? Tell me more about that…or Why did that happen? What do you think will happen tomorrow?

When your child responds, be sure to make empathetic statements (e.g., It sounds like it was hard for you…I’m so sorry that happened.) and reflective comments (e.g., I’ve been thinking a lot about how much fun we had last weekend when we got ice cream.).

3) Express empathy –

Thank your child for sharing their day and letting you know how things are going. Show that you’re listening by periodically reflecting back on what they’ve told you (e.g., I think it would be hard if your teacher yelled at you too).

When kids feel heard, they will be more likely to open up and share more. If a conversation doesn’t go well, set a time during another day when you can talk again (e.g., We didn’t really talk today…Why don’t we try again tomorrow?).

3) Listen to Feelings and Thoughts

Don’t be afraid to ask kids what they’re feeling and thinking. The most important thing you can do when a student shares an emotional response is validate their feelings and thoughts by telling them, I can see that you’re upset/scared/angry.

Validation helps students talk about emotions and develop coping skills that can help them manage strong feelings so that behavior isn’t negatively affected. It also sends a powerful message to children: there is no right or wrong way to feel—your feelings are valid.

 

kids participating in class

4) Work as a Team

One of my favorite quotes about teamwork comes from Stephen Covey: Greater performance comes not from doing things better than others, but by doing things better than you can do them alone. Kids learn best when they’re working together on a project as part of a team.

Here are some suggestions for how to start incorporating social-emotional learning into your classroom.

Impose Positive Roles and Responsibilities

It’s easy for children to have negative impressions of themselves after listening to their peers call each other names like stupid, loser, or worse.

Don’t wait until bullying is a problem before you start teaching kids about roles and responsibilities in groups—like how you can help support friends who are having a hard time with something by thinking about what they need from you and then taking action. This helps them understand that they don’t just exist as part of a team: they play an important role in it.

 

group of school children standing on field trip

5) Show Kindness

If your child is struggling with social and emotional development, don’t rush in to solve her problems for her. Instead, show kindness by listening and validating your child’s feelings.

When they have a problem or experiencing a difficult emotion, offer a hug—even if they don’t ask for one. By offering support when your child needs it most, you can help build positive emotional habits that will last a lifetime.

Being supportive can also be an effective coping mechanism. Tell your child: It looks like you’re feeling frustrated right now. That must feel really hard! What do you need? What would make things better?

 

kids sitting together on floor in school

6) Journal Writing builds social-emotional learning

Time spent writing helps students develop critical social and emotional skills. This was recently affirmed by a study from researchers at North Carolina State University, who found that students who were taught to write about their feelings showed heightened social and emotional learning (SEL) skills compared with those who did not write about their feelings.

The high schoolers who wrote for 15 minutes per day for six weeks reported an increase in empathy and perspective-taking, both important aspects of social-emotional learning ( SEL ). They also experienced less anger and shame over time. What’s more, they felt less lonely than kids in control groups—even though they weren’t instructed to specifically address loneliness or depression.

Have kids keep an art journal or scrapbook that allows them to reflect on how they’re feeling over time (e.g., fill with drawings, photos, and notes). Make your students write down their expectations and insecurities, rip them up, and throw them away.

Handwriting and Drawing Skills Improves Memory and Creativity:

Many studies have shown that learning how to write by hand, when compared with typing on a keyboard, can improve memory function.

Boy and girl happy in art class drawing

This is mainly because handwriting engages more of your brain. The act of putting pen to paper requires an individual to use their entire body—especially one’s hands and fingers—to move fluidly across a page.

While some argue that handwriting has almost become obsolete in today’s society, it can actually make you smarter.

7) Understand That Everyone Makes Mistakes

Making mistakes is a natural part of life. Whether it’s taking a wrong turn and getting lost or screwing up an assignment at school, we all make mistakes—and sometimes it can seem like there’s no coming back from them. The secret is that you can learn from your mistakes, overcome adversity, and adapt so that you emerge stronger than ever before.

Teaching your child to understand that everyone makes mistakes is a valuable lesson because kids need to understand that they aren’t alone and won’t be bullied if they do make mistakes; they need to see how difficult situations can teach us important lessons.

Making mistakes isn’t always easy, but it’s an important part of learning and growing up. Let your child know that they can learn from their mistakes and move forward.

You can also encourage them to take risks—and that’s okay if they sometimes don’t turn out so well! They can use what they learned from their failure as a stepping stone for future success.

8) Act Quickly when Problems Arise

The sooner you act when a problem arises, whether it be with a child, employee or friend, the less opportunity there is for it to snowball into something larger. When your child misbehaves, for example, don’t ignore them or yell at them for doing so.

 

cheerful kids expressing positivity wearing superheroes costumes

Instead, reprimand them right away and then move on—focus on what they can do next time instead of what they did wrong (the what not to do approach). This way, they won’t get frustrated by being punished over and over again.

9) Daily Greetings

You may be tempted to greet your children with Good morning! or Hi, honey. But those words can be a bit too matter of fact. Instead, try saying something more along these lines: How are you? or How was your night?

These types of questions and comments acknowledge that your child is an individual and that his life—both at home and school—has meaning.

10) Incorporate Art Activities

In order to help children improve their emotional intelligence, it’s important for parents and teachers to incorporate activities into daily routines that encourage self-reflection.

Using a variety of media—ranging from art projects to journaling exercises—encourages kids to tap into their imaginations, explore emotions, and experience personal satisfaction.

This can result in better self-management and communication skills, as well as healthier relationships with family members and peers.

Here are some examples of how you can incorporate social-emotional learning activities into your daily routine

*Teach children about feelings and emotions by discussing works of art or media that convey feelings (e.g., books).
* Involve children in music creation or appreciation.
*Encourage kids to make cards for others expressing their feelings.

 

children painting at the table

11) Celebrate Diversity for social-emotional learning

Diversity is a beautiful thing; it helps us appreciate and respect other people, cultures, and points of view. As such, it’s really important for social-emotional learning.

Children will learn how to be more accepting and respectful if they’re exposed to a wide range of differences at an early age.

Studies show that integrating social-emotional learning into your life on a daily basis can improve your happiness levels, reduce stress, boost productivity, and even increase your success when it comes to interacting with others.

12) Practice Mindfulness for social-emotional learning

Mindfulness is an effective social-emotional learning tool because it focuses on increasing your awareness of yourself and your surroundings. It encourages you to slow down, which helps you make conscious decisions about how you want to behave.

When kids are mindful, they’re better able to understand their emotions and behaviors, communicate with others more effectively, manage stress, and relate well to peers.

Practicing mindfulness doesn’t require a specialized technique or equipment, just being present in whatever you are doing.

 

stem education happy children showing thumbs up

Here are 15 ways to practice mindfulness:

1. Look at all you have right now – instead of dwelling on what you don’t have, shift your focus toward all that is good in your life today.

2. Take a walk outside—feel and smell everything around you and immerse yourself in nature.

3. Enjoy a cup of tea—take time to notice how it tastes and smells without rushing through it.

4. Eat with intention—instead of eating while distracted by electronics or while multitasking, sit down and eat slowly while really thinking about each bite you take; feel satisfied when you are done eating; savor each flavor as it enters your mouth before swallowing.

5. Stand up straight—sit tall and keep your chin up.

6. Be grateful—think about all that you have to be thankful for.

7. Listen more than talk—you will hear things differently than you usually do.

8. Count your blessings–write them down and recite them daily.

9. Breathe deeply—breathing deeply stimulates your brain and improves mood.

10. Laugh out loud—watch funny videos or read an amusing book.

11. Help someone else–volunteer your time, donate clothes or food, help someone push their car.

12. Meditate/reflect–it doesn’t matter if you’re practicing silence or speaking mantra aloud.

13. Write letters to loved ones who have passed away.

14. Practice yoga–focus on breathing

15. Get massages.

13) Meditation Activities for social-emotional learning

The brain is a social organ that requires plenty of love and nurturing. In order for students to learn at their highest level, they need to feel safe, secure, connected, and like they belong.

There are many ways we can help students grow socially through social-emotional learning activities. Here are some ideas you can use right away;

Encourage children to share when emotions run high by having them take deep breaths. Ask them what they’re feeling, why they’re feeling it, and if there’s something positive about it (i.e., What is great about being so angry? What do you want others to know? Why would sharing your feelings be important? ).

This helps kids process emotion while developing communication skills.

Give each child an opportunity to describe themselves using adjectives such as friendly, strong, smart, etc.

Write these down on individual sheets of paper for each student to refer back during discussions or problem-solving sessions.

It helps kids understand that everyone has strengths and good qualities—and gives adults useful information about how each student sees themselves!

 

kids happily running in school

14) Develop a Growth Mindset for Social-Emotional Learning

Developing a growth mindset means that you believe intelligence is not a static trait, but something we can cultivate and grow. Regardless of your child’s ability level, they can improve through hard work. This has positive implications for motivation and self-efficacy as well—as children begin to see academic challenges as opportunities for growth rather than threats or insurmountable obstacles, they’ll be better equipped to take on greater challenges and achieve at higher levels.

Research has shown that people who are good at reading other people’s emotions, and who can control their own emotions better, tend to be happier, healthier, and more successful. But what most of us don’t know is that these skills can actually be taught through a process called social-emotional learning (SEL).

 

children patiently listening to an educator

SEL refers to teaching kids how they can change their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to achieve desired outcomes. Specifically, SEL focuses on self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness; helping children develop empathy for others and practice how they would like others to behave towards them.

It also helps students deal with situations when things don’t go their way as well as find creative solutions for solving problems collaboratively with others rather than competitively with each other.

15) Play Outdoor Games to develop social-emotional learning

Playing games with others that require planning, cooperation, and communication helps your children learn how to navigate interpersonal relationships.

Some popular social-emotional learning games include kickball, four square, capture the flag and freeze tag.

Try adding a new game each week or seasonally (it’s easier than you think) and see if you notice any difference in your children’s behavior at home or school.

 

Kids playing on a spinning carousel in their schoolyard

16) Teach Active Listening Skills

If you want kids to learn how to listen and communicate better, teach them active listening skills. Active listening means more than just tuning into someone else; it also involves demonstrating you’re paying attention.

Turn off your cell phone, give verbal cues that show you’re hearing what someone else is saying (e.g., uh-huh, go on, etc.), and ask follow-up questions if necessary.

Conclusion

All of these strategies are just a few of your many options for fostering student growth through social and emotional learning. As you assess how best to support children’s social-emotional development, remember that strategies will vary according to children’s needs and developmental levels.

Be sure you know what approaches can be effective, what’s appropriate at each age level, and which interventions make sense within your school context.

Keep an open mind as you explore new methods—and don’t be afraid to try something new!

You never know when an idea might work brilliantly—or could even end up saving a life.

Taryn Crimi

Taryn Crimi

Taryn is an international intuitive, focused on helping to empower you manifest your best life!

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