Starting a new school year always comes with its fair share of stresses and struggles. However, given the current state of affairs with the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s back-to-school season feels even more unstable than usual. Some parents are scrambling to request flexible work hours so that they can homeschool while others are faced with the heartbreaking decision to send their children back to school in-person.

While that’s bad enough, there’s also the harsh reality that most students missed out on the last three months of their school year, which means they’re already starting a new school year with academic deficits. However, a recent survey conducted by The Harris Poll and Learning Resources found that 67 percent of parents are actually most worried that their children missed out on critical social and emotional learning competencies last spring, meaning they’re less prepared to tackle interpersonal interactions and stress that may come with the new and different year ahead.

Luckily, schools and even parents at home can overcome these shortfalls by adding social-emotional learning to the educational lineup this fall.

What Is Social-Emotional Learning?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) helps students develop the self-awareness and interpersonal skills needed to thrive not only in school, but in the workplace as well. SEL focuses on five core competencies that include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. 

Schools often adopt social-emotional learning concepts and apply them throughout the school so that students continue building their interpersonal skills and emotional awareness as they grow. However, SEL can’t just take place in a traditional classroom setting either — it requires buy-in from parents and members of the community. 

Why Social-Emotional Learning Matters

With the current world we live in, interpersonal skills and emotion regulation are more important than ever. Although school shootings and other acts of violence are at seemingly all-time highs, a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health proved that students who participate in social-emotional learning are 42 percent less likely to engage in bullying or physical aggression with their peers. Students who participate in SEL programs also appear more equipped to deal with stress and have higher self-esteem than students who don’t get this type of learning.

SEL doesn’t just enhance emotional outcomes for students, though. In fact, a national study by the American Journal of Public Health found that students who receive SEL from kindergarten onward are less likely to drop out of high school or need public housing, and are more likely to attend college and land jobs. This should come as no surprise though considering that nearly 80 percent of employers say that social-emotional skills are what is most needed in the workplace.

How Can Parents Foster SEL At Home?

While nearly all moms are concerned about their children’s academic performance, many feel the social skills and emotional awareness should not be overlooked. However, virtual learning and homeschool settings can make teaching skills like sharing, cultural acceptance, and inclusion even more difficult to teach. Luckily, though, companies like educational product maker Learning Resources are setting themselves up to help families teach social-emotional skills even during these unprecedented times. 

This is why Learning Resources is now offering free online SEL resources for parents and teachers to access online anytime. These resources not only include articles and lesson ideas for parents, but also offer links to SEL toys and products that can help families foster social-emotional learning all day, every day.

In a recent press release, Learning Resources’ Chief Marketing Officer Marie LaPlante shared this: “We are in the midst of an unprecedented back-to-school season that is unlike anything we have experienced before. While we prepare kids to learn their traditional subjects, we want parents to know that they can also count on Learning Resources to also help navigate the emotional journey that comes with learning at home during this uncertain time. Products such as our Learn-a-Lot Avocados for younger children or Let’s Talk Cubes for older kids are hands-on tools moms can count on to help students express themselves and grow at home. Our Learning@Home essentials is also a continuously updated resource with games, printouts, and more to help families build their SEL superstar.”

Other Ways To Improve Your Child’s Social-Emotional Competencies

While utilizing materials like Learning Resources’ free online SEL resources is a great place for parents to start, the real work comes in when you sit down and really think about how you connect and communicate with your children. You can set the stage for good social-emotional outcomes by modeling SEL skills at home.

To start with, parents need to ensure that they’re offering a safe, welcoming home for their children. You can do this by establishing set bedtime routines and other daily schedules, talking through emotions, and just by spending time listening to your child share things that matter to them. They need to see you modeling the behaviors you want them to adapt (like sharing and saying please) because that’s how children learn.

Furthermore, you should take time as a family to not only reflect and discuss emotions openly, but you should also practice emotional regulation techniques as a family. You can practice meditation or mindful breathing, or even create “calm down kits” that each family member can use when they’re feeling angry or upset to the point that it’s out of control. These activities and actions help children not only learn that it’s okay to express their feelings, but that there are ways to effectively manage these emotions and survive overwhelming feelings.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic and other events around the world have made us all feel a little more stressed than normal, that doesn’t mean we have to let those events completely derail effective social-emotional learning for our children. By understanding SEL and adopting some practices into your family’s daily routine, you and your children can come out of this year even stronger and more resilient than before.

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