Fostering Social-Emotional Development in Elementary School Children … Not just in the counselor’s office!

I am going to go out on a limb and make an assumption that most educators know there are many research studies suggesting the strong connection between social emotional competence and the ability to adjust to the academic demands of school. So, how can the general education classroom teacher help boost these skills? Read below for tips on how

to incorporate social-emotional learning into everyday teaching!

    • Teach and Model Emotional Literacy
      • Utilize an emotional vocabulary. Start with basic emotions and gradually move to more complex ones.
      • When a child is experiencing a strong feeling, help him/her to label that emotion. The act of labeling helps to shift the emotion to the language/cognitive part of the brain. This creates distance between the feeling and the action, helping children to process feelings in a way that is more cognitive rather than emotionally reactive.
      • Involve children in the process of identifying and expressing emotions. Ask: “What makes you feel angry?” and “How can you tell when you are angry, sad, scared?
      • Use literature to support social emotional learning. Have students think about what the characters are thinking and feeling. Encourage children to predict. Ask questions, such as, “How do you think she feels?” “Why?” “What happened in the story that made her feel like this?” “What can she do next?” Considering another person’s emotional viewpoint is the beginning of empathy.
    • Fill the Emotional Bucket
      • The best way to teach kids the concept of empathy is making sure they know that you, as the adult, have empathy for them, as the children.
      • Bucket filling helps children understand that their words and actions affect others more than they sometimes realize.
      • Let them know you appreciate and value them – strive to give children 5 positive statements for every 1 corrective message! Make many more emotional deposits than withdrawals!
      • The more secure and safe children feel, the more they learn to be able to share their feelings in a healthy way.
    • Ask, Don’t Tell
      • We should never, ever assume that we know exactly how another person feels. Always ask how a child feels and avoid telling him/her how he/she feels.
      • Replace statements, such as, “I know how you feel” with “I am not sure how you feel, but I imagine you might feel this way – can you tell me if that is right or are you feeling a different way?
      • Allowing children to have a voice in identifying their own emotions can make a huge difference!
    • Hold Morning Meetings
      • Beginning the school day with a morning class meeting helps build a sense of community, creates a culture of trust and safety, and encourages respectful communication of thoughts and feelings.
    • Practice Gratitude
      • Make your classroom a “thank-you” classroom.
      • Gratitude is connected to empathy, an important social emotional skill, and the more students are encouraged to practice gratitude, the more their empathy skills will be strengthened.
      • As part of a writing assignment, have students keep a gratitude journal. For example, they may write down ‘who’ or ‘what’ they are thankful for each day.

“It takes a village to raise a child” couldn’t be a truer statement. Social emotional learning and development isn’t just the “parent’s job” or the “counselor’s job.” It’s the responsibility of ALL of us. Remember, we are the model from which children learn.

This reminds me of the quote from Carl Jung, “If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” I encourage you to be constantly mindful of the significantly powerful impact we can and do have on children in many more ways than just their academic outcomes.

Simmons_Erin_300pxErin Simmons
Regional Behavior Specialist
Mid-State RSE-TASC


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