By Sue Laue, SEL Trainer and Coach

To navigate life’s most challenging hurdles, we need to learn skills that help us build relationships, defuse conflict, make wise decisions and plan for our futures.  These are called social and emotional learning (SEL) skills. Children with strong social and emotional skills are able not only to form healthy relationships, but are able to achieve at higher levels.

There are 5 basic social emotional skills that help children succeed:

  1. Self-Awareness:  Identifying thoughts and feelings and understanding how they influence our actions.
  2. Self-Management:  Handling emotions in a productive manner to advance our choices and to set goals that enhance our lives.
  3. Social Awareness:  Identifying and understanding the perspectives of others, how they are like us and how they are different from us and appreciating and respecting those differences and diversity.
  4. Relationship Building:  Establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships with others, practicing good communication, listening and negotiation skills.
  5. Responsible Decision-Making:  Developing and evaluating positive and informed solutions to problems and assuming personal responsibility for choices.

Illinois was one of the first states to develop standards for teaching social and emotional skills.  Schools can select from a number of evidence based programs and develop processes for infusing SEL practices throughout the school day. However, with budget cutbacks and the increasing focus on academic achievement, many school districts find little time to devote to SEL. Parents can advocate for SEL programs by talking to teachers and other parents about the need for these programs. They can also support existing programs by reinforcing SEL lessons at home and serving on SEL teams.

Although school SEL programs are important, parents are the child’s first teacherPaul Losevsky-Dreamstime Stock PhotosParents can model SEL skills at home and help their children practice them.  For example, parents can:

*  focus on children’s strengths
*  ask how they feel about concerns
*  work together on setting rules
*  find ways to stay calm when angry
*  provide fair consequences for misbehavior
*  be willing to apologize when wrong
*  avoid humiliating or mocking children
*  respect their ideas and choices
*  ask questions to help solve problems
*  encourage sharing and helping in the community
*  read books together about how others deal with problems
*  help children set positive goals

Both CASEL (www.casel.org) and the IL Children’s Mental Health Partnership (ICMHP; www.icmhp.org) have good information to help parents model SEL skills at home.  A positive emotional relationship with your child is literally life-sustaining.  Building trust and communication is a life-long process, built day by day with your child.  Start slowly and enjoy sharing your child’s inner life.

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