What’s inside this article: A list of 38 skills that are part of social-emotional learning and tips for how you can help teach your child social-emotional skills they’re struggling with.
Children are constantly learning from the world around them, developing a multitude of skills as they navigate through their life experiences.
Many skills seem to develop on their own, but that’s not exactly true. Your child actually learns these things by observing others, experiencing natural consequences, books, media, through interactions with peers, etc.
However, like some people struggle to learn certain academic skills, some people struggle to learn certain social-emotional skills.
SEL Starts at Home
Social-emotional learning is important for children to develop and maintain positive relationships, decision-making skills, develop perspective-taking skills, and build emotional intelligence.
Kids are born with many intense emotions, but they aren’t born with the skills to respond to, express, or cope with these emotions.
This is why engaging in social-emotional learning at home is so important.
This article describes what social-emotional learning is, and how you can begin teaching these skills even in very early childhood.
Skill Deficits Don’t Mean Kids are Bad
Before we understood learning disabilities, people believed that kids who couldn’t read or couldn’t do math were stupid or lazy. But now we know, their brain just learns differently.
For example. a child with dyslexia could be trying harder than anyone else to read at school and told they just need to put in more effort – well the truth is they’re already putting in more effort than other children who are good readers. Plus, they’re not receiving any credit for their efforts!
Likewise, a child with behavior problems may actually be trying harder than the “good kid” to listen, but because they haven’t yet developed the necessary skills, they aren’t successful.
Even if your child can do these skills sometimes, keep in mind that their emotional state can affect their ability to use those skills at certain times.
Have you ever been angry?
Think about how it becomes more challenging to communicate when you’re angry. Now, remember, that applies to kids with various skills, too.
Regardless of what your child struggles with, with the right supports they can be successful. It just takes time and finding the right way of teaching for their learning style.
Targeting Individual Skills
As you read through these skills, make note of which ones you believe are difficult for your child.
The same way a teacher might target the nine times table, if that’s the one your child was struggling with, you can target and teach individual social-emotional skills too.
There are many different teaching strategies, you and your child’s teacher, guidance counselor, therapist etc may use a combination of these strategies to teach social-emotional skills.
- Social Stories
- Children’s books
- Creating specific opportunities to practice the skills
Social-Emotional Skills Children Need to Be Successful
There are some articles on the website that provide strategies for teaching specific skills. When that’s the case, I’ve linked directly to those articles for your convenience.
Note: You shouldn’t feel that your child needs all of these skills mastered. Many of these are skills that develop over your entire lifetime.
But as a parent or educator, you can continually work your child’s development in a meaningful way that will benefit their life.
For example, if even gentle criticism is very challenging for your child to handle, making the extra effort to teach them how to accept criticism can help reduce the stress your child feels in that scenario.
You know your child best and are the best person to judge which skills are and are not appropriate for them, and which teaching strategies are most helpful.
- Following instructions
- Accepting consequences
- Listening to others
- Accepting criticism
- Anger management skills
- Accepting no for an answer
- Positive self-statements
- Compromising with others
- Controlling emotions
- Coping with anger from others
- Showing an understanding of others
- Relaxation techniques
- Making restitution
- Seeking positive attention
- Disagreeing respectfully
- Being sensitive to others feelings
- Following the rules
- Interrupting someone appropriately
- Making new friends
- Expressing feelings
- Dealing with frustration
- Handling accusations
- Assertive communication
- Conflict resolution
- Accepting decisions made by authority figures
- Being honest
- Waiting for your turn
- Showing respect
- Impulse control
- Respecting other peoples’ property
- Getting the teachers attention
- Asking for help appropriately
- Expressing concerns appropriately
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Teaching Missing or Lagging Social-Emotional Skills
Once you’ve identified which skills on the list your child needs to work on, you can begin planning how you’ll teach that skill.
For some of these skills, it may just be a matter of teaching the skill.
However, for others, it won’t just be about teaching them new skills, but also correcting an inappropriate behavior they currently use.
Your goal will be to replace the inappropriate behavior with the new skill by using a combination of teaching, positive reinforcement, consequences, and feedback.
This should be a positive experience, not a punitive one.
Depending on your child’s age and abilities you may decide this is something you plan and implement on your own, or you may decide to involve your child in the process.
Steps for Corrective Teaching
Choose A Skill
Choose a skill you want your child to learn and identify the negative behavior this skill will replace. During this step, be as specific as possible.
Keeping the skill too vague will make it too difficult to teach.
For example “respect”, there are many different situations where this skill applies and it can look very different depending on the scenario. Instead, you might want to start by addressing a specific situation, such as speaking respectfully at the dinner table.
You can expand and generalize the skill later, but work in smaller steps so your child can find success.
Talk to Your Child
If you’re involving your child in the process, sit down and talk to them at a time when they’re calm and receptive. Use non-threatening language, you don’t want them to feel like they’re in trouble.
For example “I’ve noticed that sometimes it’s really hard for you to interact respectfully with others at the dinner table and I was wondering if that’s something we could practice together?”
Next, plan and then implement your proactive teaching strategies.
Decide how you’ll help your child learn the skill they’re missing. You can look for (or make your own) social stories about the skill or find children’s books on the topic, role-playing, etc.
There are often read-aloud stories and educational videos available on YouTube as well.
You should expect to go over the new skill many times. If your child struggles to learn social-emotional skills they aren’t going to pick them up overnight. It will take time a repetition.
A preventative prompt is just a brief reminder of the skill, just before your child will need to use that skill.
“It’s almost dinner time. Remember we are going to practice using our manners and being respectful.”
Give Feedback & Praise
It’s important to provide feedback to your child when they:
- Use, or show an attempt to use, the skill you’re teaching
- Use the inappropriate behavior you want to correct
When you’re correcting behavior, keep the feedback short and direct. If your child feels like they’re being nagged or chastised they are more likely to become defensive.
When you notice your child attempting to use the skill, give feedback and praise by:
- Give brief praise “Wow, great job!”
- Describe the behavior you saw & name the skill “You worked hard to use respectful language at the dinner table and remembered to say please and thank you”
- Remind them of the reason for using the behavior “Being respectful to the people around you is kind and helps make the environment feel happy and safe for everyone”
- Give a positive consequence – if applicable (it may depend on the skill) provide a positive consequence. It could mean they don’t have to help clear the table that night or they get a little extra ice cream at dessert. For some kids, the praise itself is the positive consequence but for some children, it’s helpful to have an additional motivator.
Correcting Inappropriate Behavior
This is for those moments when your child doesn’t use or attempt the skill you’re teaching, engaging in the behavior you’re trying to correct.
Keep in mind that your child hasn’t yet mastered the social-emotional skills you’re working on. Assume the misbehavior is not because they don’t want to listen to you but actually because they don’t have the right skills needed.
- Describe the inappropriate behavior – “I noticed at dinner, you forgot your manners when talking to dad and it was difficult for you to be kind to your sister.”
- Show empathy – “I know how hard this is for you.”
- Explain why the skill is important – “It’s important to learn how to be more respectful because everyone deserves to feel safe and as if they’re treated fairly”
- Give a consequence – It’s very important your child is aware of any negative consequences related to the behavior BEFORE hand. Also, not all behaviors require consequences, so when you do and don’t use them is up to you. Consequences should never come as a surprise and shouldn’t be too harsh. “Because you were disrespectful, you’ve lost your TV privileges for 30 minutes”
- Offer a restorative option – Allow your child to have a reduced consequence if they practice the skill with you. “You can get your privileges back in 15 minutes if you read your social stories about respect with me.”
- Praise them for practicing the skill – If your child chooses to work on the skill with you, praise them for their choice and for working hard to learn the new skill.
The consequence keeps the message clear that their behavior is not acceptable but the restorative option puts the focus on teaching the right behavior, not punishing for their mistakes.
Tips for Successful Teaching
- There may be a lot of skills on the list that your child needs help with, and it may be overwhelming at first. Only tackle two or three skills at a time.
- When choosing the skills to work on, consider which ones you think will be the easiest to teach and which ones are the most important to learn because they’re impacting your daily life. What ones can be set aside to think about once the more important ones are out of the way?
- Reduce your demands in other areas while focusing on new skills. Doing too much at once will leave you feeling drained and achieving nothing. Decide which areas you can ease up on, so you can put all your energy into the new skill. For example, you may decide to not worry about getting your child to clean their bedroom for the time being if that’s often a high conflict task.
- Generalization: This means getting your child to do the skill in different situations and environments. It’s sometimes challenging for children with special needs to generalize their skills to all environments so it may require teaching in multiple settings (like at home, school, soccer practice, etc). But the good news is, regardless of the environment, the same parts of the brain are used so the skill will only become stronger over time.
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