Why are social and emotional skills important?

I’ve seen a lot of resources for life skills parents can teach their children during the coronavirus distancing period. It’s been great to see children and teens learning financial literacy, cooking tips, and other skills that will ready them for adulthood. And I want to add another set of skills to the mix–social and emotional life skills. SEL skills in children can lead to several important outcomes as they get older, including better academic success (e.g., getting a degree or certification), career success, and more prosocial behavior (less delinquency).  

Social and emotional skills can be learned.

So what social and emotional skills should kids be learning? Here are the top skills and some tips for how to teach them right now.

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Teaching social and emotional skills.

  • Adaptability.  You can teach your child how to be more open and flexible when changes occur by modeling that behavior yourself when something unexpected occurs. Talk about ways you cope with change and give them ideas for how they can cope (keeping in mind their age and developmental level)
  • Attention and mindfulness. Help your child be more present by taking in the “little things” on a nature walk or playing “I Spy” in your home environment, trying to find tiny details. Teens can also benefit from noticing what is happening with their senses as they cook, eat, walk in nature, or listen to music.
  • Civility and tolerance. Children can learn that words, tone, and nonverbal skills make a difference in how we communicate respect to others. Point out evidence of civility when watching movies or reading books. Expose your child to different cultures and viewpoints–in fact, many museums are giving free online cultural tours right now.
  • Empathy. You can practice empathy skills while watching a movie or reading a book, as well. Stop at a key moment and ask your child how the character might be feeling at that moment and how they might feel if they were in the same situation. Teens can learn from volunteer work or doing something kind for others and having a discussion about it.
  • Forgiveness and personal responsibility. Role play scenarios when your child or teen might need to forgive someone. Remind them that forgiveness doesn’t mean approval. Help them practice phrases they can use to express that they feel hurt by a behavior and ways to work through the anger and revenge feelings so that they can forgive. Similarly, help them learn phrases they can use to apologize for their own behavior, taking responsibility for their actions.
  • Gratitude. Keep a gratitude jar or board. Talk about things you are grateful for when you take a walk or have dinner as a family. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to come only once a year.
  • Honesty and self-awareness. Practice sharing honest observations about yourself and your behavior (e.g., I notice that when X happens, I tend to feel Y and do Z).
  • Goal-directed behavior. Help your child learn to set goals and break them up into manageable steps, so that they can follow through. Teach them the value of persistence and perseverance. For ideas on goal behavior, you can take my self-paced course here.
  • Decision making and problem solving. Give your kids opportunities to make decisions daily. Involve them in family decision making, so that they can learn the skills needed to problem solve and plan ahead for the future. Finally, give them a chance to work out their problems before rushing to step in and fix it for them. Guide them through questions designed to help them reach the answer.
  • Self-Control and stress management. For young kids, rewarding self-control (e.g., I like how you waited calmly) is important, and you can practice using games like Simon Says. For older kids and teens, help them to imagine a stop sign or to practice a moment of mindfulness (e.g., noticing a color and labeling it in their head), so that they can diffuse their frustration and reset themselves.
  • Curiosity and creativity. Use this time to play and have fun, learn about new things, and explore the world via the computer. Draw, sculpt, paint, sew. Learn new creative skills.
  • Assertiveness and Self-efficacy. Here’s another great time to role play scenarios and phrases your child can use to communicate their needs. And help your child learn how to use self-compassion when they fail so that they can become resilient and improve for next time. This helps them to have better self-efficacy (the belief that they can do something). Encourage a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation.

For practical tips and actual activities you can do with your child or teen that will help teach these skills, sign up for a free discovery call with me (click the pink button above). We can talk in more detail about how my coaching can help and you’ll leave with a few activities you can try RIGHT NOW!

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