Fostering Social Emotional Skills in Children
with Tara Gratto, Founder of Raising Resilient Children
One of the most powerful tools we possess as parents is built into each and every one of us. At the core of every interaction, reaction and action are feelings. Emotions are the universal language, and also the most personal and unique things about us as people. The tools and skills for fostering, developing and managing feelings are known as social emotional intelligence or SEL (social emotional learning). This is the ability to identify, process and regulate our feelings. It is also an integral part of fostering empathy, the idea that others also have feelings and experiences related to those feelings.
When I work with parents there is a common theme - “I can’t add another thing to my overflowing plate. I know empathy and social emotional skills are important, but I just don’t have the mental bandwidth to add this layer to my responsibilities as a parent.” I hear you, I understand you, I am you. Here’s my answer, why add something when you can tweak the things you are already doing to support your family goals?
3 Easy Ways to Foster Social Emotional Skills in Children:
1. Think of Emotions as a Language
Think of feelings like teaching a language, the language we all need to speak. This will help you break down conversations for age-appropriate applications. For example, when you are talking to younger children you will focus on the core feelings and really emphasize on only a handful. As your children grow and develop, it will become increasingly important to foster a greater vocabulary by building out the more complex feelings. By thinking of emotions as a language you will foster learning to compliment their age and stage. One of the fundamental skills in developing social emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and understand a range of emotions. With this as a base, you can begin to foster skills for emotional regulation. Those are the tools we rely on for handling a range of feelings, mostly the ones we associate with big reactions.
2. Use Everyday Interactions
There is nothing more powerful than sharing lessons simply by living them. Narrate yourself, narrate your family, narrate the nuances, the self-talk, the body-language.
Children are amazing and intuitive and simultaneously oblivious. Here’s the thing, they come across as so mature and understanding, but really unless you have clearly told them in a very straightforward manner, they don’t actually know things the way we think they do. They don’t have the benefit of all our knowledge and experience and this lends itself to adults thinking that kids are understanding at a much greater depth than they actually are.
When we are talking about developing social emotional intelligence, we have to remember how much self-talk goes into our decisions, the complexity of body language and the nuances of human interaction. What may be obvious to us, isn’t as obvious to them. There’s also a really interesting thing that happens when you start to do this, you discover, you don’t always interpret their feelings and emotions in the way they mean them. That’s the power of developing SEL with your family, really understanding each person as a unique individual.
3. Use Children’s Books
A lot of families routinely share stories with their children at bedtime. Let’s use this as an opportunity to pick books that intentionally foster skills for SEL. There is an important balance to be struck here between selecting books for learning and sharing books for pleasure.
Every evening select one book that you will use to foster social emotional skills and/or empathy and have your child(ren) select a book they want to read with you. This ensures you have a book for learning and a book for pleasure.
Once you pick a book, think about 1-2 goals per reading that you will intentionally make connections to, ask questions about, or pause for reflection. The books themselves don’t foster learning alone, they need you to help guide the learning experience. The best part, you can use this tool indefinitely by adapting the type of materials you read to your children and selecting books that are both entertaining and foster engaging discussions.
As parents we are juggling so many things and it can be hard to know what is essential to focus on in raising our children. Social emotional skills are at the core of human interactions and a foundational part of what guides each of us in managing all that life sends in our direction. When we foster skills for social emotional well-being and empathy, we are providing children with tools to support them in all stages of life.