George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Social and Emotional Learning: Strategies for Parents

There are many ways parents can encourage emotionally intelligent behavior in their children. Check out this guide to resources for learning more about character development.

February 22, 2001

Whether it's called "social and emotional learning" or "emotional intelligence," most people understand it's critical to pay attention to the development of the whole young person, including character education. Parents have a dual role to play in raising a self-aware, respectful child who knows how to manage his or her emotions, make responsible decisions, and resolve conflicts non-violently. At home, you should strive to create an environment of trust, respect, and support. Remember that modeling "emotionally intelligent" behavior at home is the first step in nurturing emotionally intelligent children. At school, you can work with other members of your school community to create a climate that supports social and emotional learning - in and out of the classroom.

Here are some specific steps you can take to nurture an emotionally intelligent child, and additional resources you can use to learn more about social and emotional learning.

Strategies At Home

Be a good listener. Joshua Freedman, Chief Operating Officer at Six Seconds, a nonprofit organization supporting emotional intelligence in families, schools, corporations, and communities, describes listening as a "core competency skill." Unfortunately, it's not always practiced by parents or children. For a list of strategies and activities for building listening skills, read Freedman's article on the subject, one of the many useful parenting resources at KidSource Online.

Model the behavior you seek. Whether it's apologizing when you're in the wrong or treating others with respect and kindness, children learn a great deal about relationships from observing the behavior of their parents. In the words of Maurice Elias, co-author of two books on emotionally intelligent parenting, parents should remember the "24K Golden Rule: We should always think about the impact of our actions on kids, and be as particular in what we do with our kids as we would want others to be with our kids." Check out an Edutopia interview with Elias about the role of social and emotional learning at home, as well as a video of him talking about why SEL should be an integral part of academic life. Elias is also a regular blogger for Edutopia on the topic of social and emotional learning.

Nurture your child's self-esteem. A child with a good sense of self is happier, more well-adjusted, and does better in school. Strategies for fostering self-esteem include giving your child responsibilities, allowing her to make age-appropriate choices, and showing your appreciation for a job well done.

Respect differences. Every child has his or her own unique talents and abilities. Whether in academics, athletics, or interpersonal relationships, resist the urge to compare your child to friends or siblings. Instead, honor your child's accomplishments and provide support and encouragement for the inevitable challenges he faces.

Take advantage of support services. Seek the advice and support of school counselors or other social services during times of family crisis, such as a divorce or the death of a close friend or family member. Remember that no matter how close you are to your child, she may be more comfortable discussing a troubling family situation with another trusted adult.

Strategies At School

Investigate your school's efforts to support social and emotional learning. Keep in mind that programs take on many forms and are called by many different names, including character education, leadership, conflict resolution, or peer mediation. Author Elias has identified four ideal components of a school's social emotional learning program: a specific program to support social-emotional learning, problem-prevention and health promotion activities, support services to address transitions, crises, and conflicts, and a commitment to community service. Ask your child, his teacher, and your school principal about activities and programs in each of these key areas.

Organize guest speakers. Work with your school's parent organization to identify experts within your community who can speak to parents and teachers about strategies for nurturing emotionally intelligent children.

Get involved. Consider volunteering for a school or school district committee responsible for overseeing the implementation of programs to support social and emotional learning. Note: At a district level, these programs are often (though not always) part of a safety or violence prevention department.

Celebrate diversity. Work with other parents and school staff to organize programs and events to celebrate and honor the many cultures in your school community.

Begin the discussion. If your school does not have any programs around social and emotional learning, work with others in your school and larger community to create what Linda Lantieri, co-founder of the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, director of The Inner Resilience Program, and a consultant for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning calls a "web of support." Bring together leaders from throughout your community -- businesspeople and law enforcement, parents and educators -- to discuss ways in which your community can make the emotional health and wellness of children a priority.

Additional Resources to Learn More

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): Ideas and Tools for Working With Parents and Families. This comprehensive PDF from CASEL’s website offers specific tips for what parents can do to support social and emotional learning at home. The packet includes background information about SEL, interviews with parents, and lists of SEL books, organizations, and programs.

Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL): Family Tools. This collaborative project based at Vanderbilt University offers a series of guides for parents of young children on how to help their child identify his or her emotions, build relationships, communicate effectively, and much more.

The Center for Social and Character Development at Rutgers University features a parent resource page full of links to newsletters, publications, activities, multimedia presentations, and nonprofit organizations that have conducted in-depth research on social and emotional learning.

The EQ for Families curriculum provides a toolkit for putting on four workshops for parents and caregivers to create more emotionally intelligent families. You’ll find the toolkit, as well as many other useful EI resources, at the Six Seconds website.

Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, by Thomas Gordon, offers time-tested lessons and strategies. You'll find information about this book and other useful resources at the Gordon Training International website.

Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children (Sounds True, Inc.: 2008). Social and emotional learning expert Linda Lantieri and Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) co-founder Daniel Goleman combine forces in this step-by-step guide to helping children calm their minds and bodies as well as manage their emotions. The guide is accompanied by an audio CD of practices led by Daniel Goleman.

Emotionally Intelligent Parenting: How to raise a self-disciplined, responsible, socially skilled child (Three Rivers Press: 1999), and Raising Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers: Parenting with love, laughter, and limits (Harmony Books: 2000), are two excellent books by Maurice Elias, Steven E. Tobias, and Brian S. Friedlander.

Educating Minds and Hearts: Social Emotional Learning and the Passage into Adolescence (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: 1999). This anthology, edited by Jonathan Cohen, features articles by many experts in social and emotional learning and includes useful strategies for all stakeholders interested in promoting emotional intelligence in our schools.

Last updated: June 2012 by Sara Bernard

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