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How to Explain Social and Emotional Learning to Families

By Cultures Of Dignity | September 26, 2022

Why Should Families Be Involved With Social And Emotional Learning?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) refers to the skills needed to navigate through social interactions, understand and manage emotions, and make responsible decisions. While much of SEL occurs at school, educators know that families play a crucial role in supporting these skills at home. There can often be a disconnect between what happens in the classroom and at home. By taking the time to explain SEL to families and provide concrete examples of how parents and children at home can use SEL concepts, educators can help accelerate students’ social and emotional development.

Families that understand SEL concepts can partner with educators to grow skills at home in parallel with school and see lasting positive outcomes1. When families and educators work together, everyone benefits.

What Is Social And Emotional Learning?

SEL is a process through which students develop skills and techniques that help them build more secure relationships, learn how to regulate their emotions, and resolve conflicts more productively. SEL aims to create a healthy, safe environment focused on self and interpersonal growth. We define SEL as having five core competencies: Dignity, Navigating Social Dynamics, Emotional Awareness, Self-Regulation, and Reasonable Expectations. These core competencies help those practicing SEL to have healthier relationships and better habits and lead to better mental health outcomes1.

“SEL isn’t just one specific subject like science or social studies — instead, it’s a collection of ideas, activities, practices, and teachable moments that students and families can learn from.”

SEL is not about specific lesson plans that teach students what to feel or think — instead, effective SEL teaches students a process of how to think. This distinction is critically important for teachers and families — you can’t simply check off all of the boxes of the core competencies to become adept at SEL. It takes time and commitment to ensure that young people understand the reasoning behind their own and others’ actions, emotions, goals, and aspirations. Teachers, school counselors, administrators, and family members can quickly identify social-emotional challenges that students commonly encounter, including students unwilling to work with a partner, students who lash out at their friends and classmates, and students who don’t believe in themselves or their abilities. Consistency and communication between teachers and families can allow students to understand SEL concepts more deeply, accelerate their learning, and effectively practice skills they have learned in and out of the classroom.

The world is ever-changing and becoming more diverse every day, so it’s essential to account for the differences that we see in our fellow human beings so that everyone has an equal footing for success. SEL provides a common ground and specific language for young people and adults to better empathize and communicate with those around them, better manage their feelings and thoughts, and work through novel situations while growing from their challenges. Families that encourage SEL in their children will be able to see them navigate the world and manage their relationships more adaptively. Families can also benefit from practicing and learning about SEL with their children, as it improves their communication skills and gives them tools for conflict resolution. By encouraging SEL in and out of the classroom, families set up their children for success in the world.

SEL Doesn’t Suddenly Stop When Students Leave School — Why Families Must Engage In SEL At Home

Families play a critical role in supporting SEL at home and providing a safe space to ensure their children can continue learning and growing as individuals. SEL is not just a classroom activity — it’s a way to learn how to think, engage with the world, manage one’s emotions, and handle dynamic social situations. When parents model positive SEL behaviors, provide practice opportunities, and give supportive and constructive feedback, children are more likely to develop the skills they need to succeed1.

Teachers can offer guidance and get kids on the right path, and families can reinforce good habits and create a safe environment and culture of dignity for their kids to feel open to growing. Families must understand what SEL is to support students’ development of SEL skills. Those knowledgeable in SEL should communicate what SEL is and its benefits to families to understand best how to help their children grow. Similarly, we should encourage parents and families to learn more about SEL and ask questions as they arise to best help young people thrive and grow.

What Are Some Strategies And SEL Activities Or Practices At home?

There are some specific action steps that families and parents can take to nurture SEL skills in their children, including:

Continually build young people’s self-awareness and self-esteem. Reflecting inwardly is an essential piece of SEL — and families can play a critical role in encouraging self-awareness and self-esteem. Self-awareness is recognizing and understanding our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and practicing mindfulness around why we act the way we do. Parents and caregivers can help young people identify their emotions when upset or angry and put a name to their feelings to make them seem more manageable1. They can also show their children how to empathize with others, setting a positive example for treating others how they wish to be treated. In addition to self-awareness, parents can help children build their self-esteem, which is your overall opinion of yourself and how you feel about your abilities and limitations. Parents who positively reinforce their children’s strengths and value their opinions and ideas can boost their children’s self-esteem, leading to their children becoming more confident and better able to manage how they think and feel about themselves. Educators can explain to families that self-awareness and self-esteem can further boost children’s abilities to engage in and benefit from SEL, motivating parents and young people to practice these skills.

Actively listen to one another. Families that genuinely attend to each other can better understand what children need and what issues they may have with friends, school, and their feelings. When children and their parents feel heard by each other, it’s much easier to have an open and honest conversation about sensitive topics. Once families establish an open dialogue, children can further share what’s bothering them, positively reinforcing good habits about sharing their feelings. Open communication also contributes to emotional intelligence, which is the ability to understand one’s own emotions better. Emotional intelligence allows families and young people to manage stress and conflict and feel empathy towards others. Educators should emphasize to families that listening is one of the first steps to creating a home environment that encourages SEL.

Be a model for behavior that you wish to see in your children. As trusted adults, parents influence what their children think, act, and react to certain situations. Parents should do their best to model the behaviors they wish to see in their children to create consistency between the words we, as adults, say and our actions. By seeing their parents walk the walk and talk the talk, children can better understand how to treat others kindly, deal with social and emotional situations with more control over their feelings, and act with self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Modeling behaviors that encourage SEL in children is a crucial step for parents to take outside the classroom. While modeling the behavior we wish to see in our children is one of the most challenging steps to take (everyone makes mistakes), educators can provide resources and support to parents working to better understand and implement SEL at home.

Understand and embrace that each child is unique. Families must understand that each child, and each person, is unique and different — this understanding is critical to the foundation of SEL. Every child learns differently, has different ways of expressing and feeling emotions, and has unique desires and preferences, so families must understand and listen carefully to best meet their individual needs. Educators who embrace each child’s uniqueness can better explain how understanding differences can help families learn and benefit from SEL on a deeper level.

Find resources and support that work for each unique individual and their family. While the field of SEL is a newer concept in education overall, there are many great resources for educators, parents, and young people. There’s no right or wrong way to approach SEL, but different types of resources can resonate with folks differently depending on how they teach or learn. For example, our blog is an excellent place to find more information about SEL for those that know from reading. Our podcasts and webinars are better for those who learn from the conversation. Our tiny guides and lesson plans may be better for educators who prefer an integrated curriculum. And our workshops and consulting services may be best for those who want to interact with speakers and experts. There’s a ton out there, so reach out to us if you need help navigating through the noise and finding the best way to help families learn about SEL!

How Can Families Encourage Their Children To Participate In SEL At School?

Families that learn about SEL don’t just help their children at home; they can also encourage and generate interest in SEL to get young people more engaged at school. Working with families to promote SEL can create a positive feedback loop that will benefit young people and their schools.

For example, asking questions about the school day allows children to open up about their lessons and daily experiences and reinforce the concepts they learned. Asking students to share how they felt during successes or failures in projects, tests, and presentations allows them to reflect on their performance and identify how they felt about it. Families can also have their children open up and share non-academic experiences at school; for example, if they did anything fun with their friends during the break period or talked to someone new at school. Some incidents might take a gentler approach, like asking our children if they got into trouble or a conflict. Parents that practice being open and honest can affirm that home is a safe space to talk about challenges rather than just the joyous moments of the day. Asking questions and remaining engaged and curious is a critical way to reinforce SEL in our children and motivate them to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally at school. Educators that can explain how to engage with SEL in a family setting can help create a positive atmosphere that benefits young people in the classroom and at home.

How Can Families Get Involved With SEL And Create A Culture Of Dignity?

We believe that creating a culture of dignity can enable families, young people, educators, and community leaders to better teach each other and benefit from SEL. Dignity is the inherent worth that we all have, regardless of our background and where we come from. Respect is earned through action — and is different from dignity. Dignity allows a shared language and even playing field to better empower young people to learn from and benefit from SEL. If we can teach families that dignity is an essential foundation for SEL, we can better involve them in their children’s social and emotional development. Below are some specific actions to take with families to create a culture of dignity and benefit from SEL at home:

Invite – welcome families into the discussion. It’s not just a teacher or school administrator’s job to teach SEL or create a culture of dignity — instead, it’s a collaborative effort between role models in the student’s life. Be clear when inviting families to participate in SEL and equip them with the tools they need to understand core concepts that can benefit their children.

Education – explaining SEL and dignity clearly and in different ways can help families understand the reasoning behind SEL. Families can also stay current and learn ways to practice and enforce SEL in their homes with initial guidance from educators or other groups knowledgeable in SEL, like Cultures of Dignity.

Benefits – Families should understand the many benefits of SEL through a lens of dignity to their children to become motivated to learn more about SEL. By first hearing of and experiencing the benefits of SEL, families enter a positive feedback loop of reinforcement.

Inclusivity – SEL can be taught to and benefit anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or ability. By being inclusive, we invite families and children to participate in an open conversation about SEL and its benefits to all. Understanding dignity can help us understand why it’s essential to be inclusive.

Tools – Many organizations offer ideas and lessons to engage students in the classroom or at home. Our blog provides a fantastic place to start, and our lesson plans are available for all educators. Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates on SEL within the context of Dignity.

How Do Families Benefit From SEL?

While children benefit from SEL at a critical point in their development, its benefits extend to all family members. Families who have exposure to SEL and practice it daily can improve their emotional regulation, self-awareness, empathy, and emotional intelligence towards themselves and others. Families that learn more about emotional regulation can identify their feelings, put a name to them, and discuss them more openly. By being more open and aware of their feelings, family members can share what makes them feel certain emotions and use that to better communicate with each other, leading to healthier relationships and better conflict resolution.

Parents with SEL skills are more likely to model desired behavior for their children, establish more positive relationships, communicate effectively with them, and provide support during challenging times. In turn, children with parents who role-model SEL skills are more likely to have higher self-esteem, better social competence, and stronger relationships.

Why Is It Essential For Communities To Engage Families In SEL?

While all families can benefit from incorporating SEL into daily life, some families may need extra support. Adults who work with families can guide how to implement SEL activities into everyday routines. They can also offer resources and referrals to families who may benefit from more specialized services. Ultimately, we can create more compassionate, responsive, and joyful communities by supporting SEL in families and adults.

SEL advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships. Families that engage in SEL with their children contribute to learning environments and experiences that feature trusting relationships, rigorous and meaningful curricula and instruction, and ongoing evaluation with precise measurements of progress. Families that engage with SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities1. Families that practice empathy, active listening, and emotional intelligence are more likely to treat others with dignity and lift up those different from themselves1.

Extending and reinforcing SEL into family life gives many opportunities for students to learn and practice social-emotional skills with real-world experiences. Engaging families as partners in SEL can add more significant meaning and relevance to the lessons happening at school. Social-emotional learning outside of school can grow and change depending on what each child needs, meaning that families must understand SEL to give their children the best chance at success. Family homes and their surrounding communities are ripe with opportunities for social-emotional learning growth, including trips to complete errands, having a dinner time conversation, responding to a family event or experience, and meeting different people while out and about. This highly personalized learning from everyday experiences adds breadth and depth to social-emotional learning for students2. Family-enabled learning utilizes students’ strengths and fills in gaps that emerge in everyday life, empowering students to independently apply these lessons as needed and ingrain their understanding of SEL, laying the foundation for a culture of dignity.

Works Cited

  1. CASEL. (2021). What Does the Research Say? CASEL.
  2. Thorson, K. (2018, October 16). Extending Social Emotional Learning into the Home. Getting Smart.

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