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Making home a place to support social emotional learning

Earlier this year, I introduced you to how Illinois developed Social Emotional Learning Standards, the first state to do so in the nation, nearly 20 years ago. As a review, social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children: develop awareness and management of their emotions; set and achieve important personal and academic goals; use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships; and demonstrate decision making and responsible behaviors to achieve school and life success. There is a strong research base indicating that these SEL competencies improve students’ social/emotional development, readiness to learn, classroom behavior, and academic performance.

As these standards are addressed in schools, it is important that parents learn more about them and what they can do to support and complement what their children might be learning in school. Guidance for this process was recently reviewed in an article from January 2022 in U.S. News and World Report. Social emotional development changes as the child grows. A mother providing a feeling of safety for her baby begins the child’s process of healthy social-emotional development. Toddlers engage in pretend play and learn how to interact positively with others. As children enter school, they develop the ability to regulate their emotions and work well with others. Children do not stop learning and social-emotional development continues. It grows as children progress through school, allowing them to relate to others and handle challenges in healthy ways.

  • Elementary school: Students engage in play-based skills, learn to advocate for themselves and practice empathy for others. When children feel safe and calm, parents can work on helping them recognize how their emotions feel and how to regulate themselves.

  • Middle school: Students learn to be aware of how their minds and bodies feel will affect their social communication. The idea is that children understand that everyone experiences emotions, both good and bad. While being able to label their emotions, they sometimes hide their concerns. They may feel ashamed of their emotions and want to avoid burdening others.

  • High school: At this age, relationships with peers become very important. As teenagers fit into the word, it is normal and healthy for them to establish an identity outside of the family. Often that means managing friendships, dating, workplace colleagues and other more complicated relationships. Parents should recognize the trend to seek more independence from them.

Building Social-Emotional Skills at Home

Label feelings: Label your feelings for your children and acknowledge their feelings as well. For example, “Your voice is loud, and you just threw your toy. You must be angry that it is time to turn off the TV.”

Prioritize family time: As they grow older, children can benefit from family time. Eating meals together and maintaining routines and traditions can support your child’s emotional health. Children in middle school and high school may need more time to be with friends but they need time with parents too. Brainstorm things that you all might like to do together like baking or working on a project. These activities can open up time for conversation.

Take time for rest: Parents should make time for mindfulness and to include their children. As little as 5 minutes a day of relaxation and mindfulness can help reduce stress, decrease inappropriate behavior and improve concentration and sleep.

Ask for help: It really does take a village to raise a child sometimes. Do not be afraid to reach out to resources in school and in the community whether they be school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and members of the faith community.

In the spirit of knowing that parents and even grandparents are lifelong learners I suggest that you check this helpful website:

It contains a lot of information about Social and Emotional Development and how to encourage its development at home.


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