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Enacting Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has many proven benefits, including raising student achievement scores by an average of over 10 percentile points, increasing empathy, compassion, and understanding differences, as well as reducing depression and anxiety (Durlak et al., 2011). In a nutshell, social-emotional learning offers students a way to learn that helps them develop five key skills that serve them in and out of the classroom:

  1. Self Awareness

  2. Self Management

  3. Social Awareness

  4. Relationship Skills

  5. Responsible Decision Making

Self Awareness

Self awareness involves developing mindfulness. This practice allows for people to:

  • identify their emotions

  • develop self-perception

  • recognize strengths

  • cultivate confidence

  • experience a sense of self-efficacy.

Self Management

Self management involves developing coping strategies. This practice allows for people to:

  • regulate emotions

  • manage anxiety and stress

  • control behaviors

Social Awareness

Social awareness involves developing respect for and understanding of different people. This practice allows for people to:

  • value diversity

  • demonstrate empathy and compassion

  • understand collective behavioral expectations

  • participate in communities

Relationship Skills

Relationship skills involves interacting with diverse people. These skills allow people to:

  • communicate clearly to different types of people

  • build relationships

  • maintain respect for people of differing opinions

Responsible Decision Making

Responsible decision making involves thinking before acting. This practice allows people to:

  • solve problems constructively

  • maintain personal accountability

  • monitor behavior

All of the components of SEL can bolster your child's academic and life skills toolbox. More and more schools are adopting a social-emotional learning model, but there are several ways you can practice these principles at home. Below are some of my favorites.

Create a Glitter Jar

Glitter jars are useful tools to help students develop self awareness and self management. If your child is experiencing a strong emotion, they simply grab the jar and shake it, watching the glitter inside swirl around and move about in liquid before slowly settling to the bottom. The glitter represents their emotions. People are often not capable of responding in a mindful way when their emotions are running high, so this tool is useful for creating a space in time to allow emotions to settle before reacting to a given stimuli.

To make a glitter jar you will need:

  • a 16 ounce clear jar with a lid

  • 3/4 cup clear glue

  • 1 cup distilled water

  • a few tablespoons of colorful glitter

  • a couple of drops of food coloring, if desired

Mix the ingredients in the jar, adding more water at the end if necessary to fill it completely. When your child is experiencing a strong emotion, calmly say something like: "I can see you are experiencing a strong emotion (if you know what it is, name it). Let's shake the glitter jar and talk about what you're feeling once the glitter has settled." Saying this helps children recognize that they are experiencing an emotion, name that emotion, and then settle from it before deciding how to best cope.

Writing a Letter or Drawing a Picture for Someone Else

Long gone seem the days when handwritten letters and pictures were sent through the mail. Writing a letter or drawing a picture for someone else is an exercise that helps children develop social awareness and relationship skills.

To begin, brainstorm with your child who could benefit from receiving some kind words or a lovely drawing. These could include family members, someone at a local nursing home, a friend, or anyone else who would love some compassionate communication.

Once you have chosen your recipient, decide with your child the best content for the communication. Consider the audience and guide your child as to what they might write or draw. After that, give them the freedom to compose their message on their own.

Finally, choose the best option for delivery of the letter of picture. Sending items through the mail provides a certain comforting and unexpected sense of nostalgia, so it can be lovely to do just that!

Make a Schedule or To-Do List

Making a schedule or to-do list assists children in planning and responsible decision making. The following instructions are from my earlier blog post titled "Fostering Student Time Management and Organization at Home," which also has additional advice on responsible decision making.

The first step in making a schedule is to make a list of all goals to be accomplished. These could be assignments, chores, errands, or anything else your child might need to complete by a deadline.

Once you complete the list together, order it by deadline. For example, if you make your list on a Sunday and a task needs to be completed by Monday morning, it should be at the top of the list. A different task that needs to be completed by Wednesday afternoon might fall somewhere in the middle of the list. This process helps your child prioritize which goals to focus on and when to focus on them.

For some students, this list may be enough. They simply refer to it every day, complete a few goals in order each day, and check off what they have accomplished after completion. For others, more organization may be needed. In this case, I recommend the use of a daily or weekly planner. You can often find these at the dollar store, or you can create them at home using a calendar or technology.

To use a planner, sit with your child and the prioritized list you created together and organize the tasks into the days of the week. For complex tasks or ones that may take longer to complete, you might only schedule one task per day. For simpler tasks, you might schedule several per day. If a task will take more than one day to complete, schedule it over several days with a daily completion goal. For example, if your child has 14 days to read a 200 page book, you might write "Read 15 Pages" on each day of the week for two weeks.

Make it explicit that once a task is scheduled on a day of the week, it is a contract your child has made with themself for completion on that day that is non-negotiable. I myself use this technique to complete chores I do not particularly like doing. As an example, I have a small pond in my back yard that gets mucky without regular maintenance. I am not particularly fond of getting down in there to clean it, but, if I don't, there are consequences. The pump will get clogged, the fish will die, algae will bloom, etc. I use my planner to schedule cleaning the pond and pump filter every other week, and know that by writing it down I have made a contract with myself to complete the task. Since starting the scheduling in this way, the water in my pond has remained crystal clear, the fish healthy and happy, and no algae has grown. There are also consequences when students do not complete tasks. They could get lower grades on assignments, they could lose privileges for not completing their chores, etc. Emphasize natural consequences and possible rewards for non-completion and successful completion of each task. You could even schedule rewards in the planner to create some excitement for something upcoming that will be fun! Also emphasize the natural rewards of completion: the fact that there will be no natural consequences.

Technology can also be useful for scheduling tasks. I have had several students with phones schedule their tasks in their phone's calendar with an alert. When they hear the alert, they know that it is time to get started right away.


Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K.B. (2011). "The impact of enhancing students' social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions."Child Development, 82, pp.405-432.

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