The results of a nineteen-year study of kindergarten students published in the American Journal of Public Health found out something very important – that your child’s future success relies heavily on social-emotional skills. These “non-cognitive skills” include the ability to recognize and regulate one’s own emotions and the ability to recognize and understand emotions in others. The influence of these skills crossed the domains of “education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health.” Children who possessed more social-emotional skills were more likely to complete college and have a full-time job by the age of 25. They were less likely to have legal issues, be arrested, or have substance abuse problems.
Social-emotional skills have long taken a back seat to cognitive skills, and it is great to see them being recognized for the importance that they hold. Even if your children are beyond – even way beyond – kindergarten, there are concrete things that you can do to increase your child’s social competency. Here are a few things that you can do to increase your family’s social-emotional skills:
- Make room for feelings in your family – Feeling, other than anger, were frowned upon in my family when we were growing up. They were at the least discounted and at the most feared. Logic is what was valued. The head was given precedence over the heart. Realizing that you can actually tap into both is wonderful! To broaden social-emotional learning, make room in your life and in your family life for feelings. Feelings are our barometers. They are clues to who we are and what we value. Listen to feelings – your own and your children’s. Ask your child how he felt after an upset or conflict. Identify the feelings of mad, sad, happy, scared, and hurt for them, including facial expressions that display those feelings. Discuss how you felt as well.
- Have a trust agreement in your family – Trust is the basis of all teams, and trust is foundational for social-emotional learning. Have an agreement in your family that you will talk directly to the person with whom you have a misunderstanding or conflict. That will prevent talking about them with other family members. Nothing undermines trust more than talking about someone behind their back. If your child comes to you complaining about something their sibling did, direct them to speak with their sibling. That can include guiding them on how to talk with their brother or sister. You may need to be present for their first conversations. This doesn’t mean sending a child in to speak with a sibling or parent who is violent or overpowering.
- Teach your child the skills to peacefully resolve conflict – Teach your child to resolve conflict using an “I statement.” Begin with how they feel or felt followed by the specific event. For example, “I felt sad when you ignored my question this morning.” Follow up with a statement of what they desire. “I would like you to stop, look at me, and listen to what I have to say.” Follow this with a call for an agreement, which could be as simple as, “Will you do that?” Have an initial agreement that when peacefully negotiating, both parties will look at each other, be respectful, and listen.
- Distinguish between feelings and behavior – We all have feelings, and they are meant to be felt. It doesn’t work – particularly when feeling angry – to act based upon those feelings. Be clear with your children that all feelings are great to feel; however, they do not have permission to hit, push, or yell because they feel angry.
- Teach your children how to feel their feelings – So often we dramatize our feelings or magnify them or fuel them rather than simply feeling them. Have your child identify where in their body they feel the feeling. Is it in their chest, throat, head, or belly? Have them expand the energy of the feeling until it fills their entire body. Then ask them to let it go. See what happens on the other side! Have them talk about the feeling without enlarging or fueling it. Let them cry if they are sad or very mad.
- Model feeling your feelings – The most powerful tool at your disposal is modeling. If you feel your feelings, your children will learn from you how to feel theirs. If you honor your feelings, your children will learn to honor theirs as well. If you take a break to calm down when you feel angry – and let your children know what you are doing and why – your children will learn about that space between something happening and your response. They will learn that we are each responsible for understanding and managing our emotional state. This is the basis of emotional-regulation. It is something that we all practice and learn throughout life, and it is never too late to begin!
Tune into your child’s social competencies – no matter their age. You will serve them greatly both now and into adulthood. Incorporate social-emotional learning into your family life. You will create more enriching experiences, build deeper connections, and lay the foundation for great relationships in the future. All good!