Originally published: June 2022
If you have a school-age child at home, you’ve likely heard the buzz around social emotional learning (SEL). It’s a concept that has caught the attention of teachers and parents alike—in part because it makes good sense. SEL is about helping kids learn the types of skills they use in everyday life, like how to handle emotions, cope with stress, get along with others, make decisions, and solve problems. Social emotional skills are essential. They help kids thrive at school, work, and in life.
Kids develop social emotional skills from a very young age. They learn through formal instruction (like lessons at school or in childcare) and through informal, day-to-day life experiences at home and in the community.
Here are 10 practical ways to boost your child’s social emotional skills.
1. Build their social emotional vocabulary
Teach your kids to name their emotions. Use The Feelings Wheel to help them build an emotion vocabulary—beyond basic terms like happy, sad, or mad—so they can find the words to express how they feel. Naming emotions and moods is the first step to managing them in healthy ways.
2. Focus on their strengths
Talk to your child about their strengths—what they can do, what they’re good at, and what they enjoy. Notice the positive things about your child. Try not to compare them to their siblings or friends.
3. Give them responsibilities
Talk to your child about ways they can contribute at home. Together, figure out tasks that suit their age, interests and talents—they could help with pet care, chop vegetables for dinner, or weed the garden. Having responsibilities helps them feel valued, confident, and secure.
Create time, space, and opportunity for your child to play in ways that make sense to them. Whether they play alone or with others, freely or in structured ways, they’ll be learning and trying out social emotional skills. Join your child in pretending, building, cooperative games, and the like—just be sure to let them guide the activity.
5. Help them work toward goals
Help your child set ambitious goals and work toward them with small, realistic steps. Whether they want to improve their reading, try a new sport, or cook dinner on their own, they’ll likely need your support to get there. Show them how to break big goals into smaller, doable parts. Celebrate small wins along the way—it helps them stay positive and motivated.
6. Put them in the driver's seat
Give your child a chance to weigh in on decisions. Get them to plan what they’ll have for school lunch, choose their own after-school activities, or decide how to style their hair. Involve them in family choices, like where to go camping or how to celebrate a special occasion. When kids have an active voice in decision-making, they learn to think through choices and consequences.
7. Teach them how to cope with stress
Help your child explore different ways to cope with stress. Try physical activities (like running or dancing), calming activities (like art or yoga), or spending time outside. Some kids also benefit from techniques like starfish breathing or box breathing. Learn these strategies in just 5 minutes with this handy video: Stress explained (Elementary edition).
8. Guide problem solving
Listen to your child when they share problems with you, when they talk about challenges with friends or siblings. Try not to jump in with opinions or ideas to improve a situation. Instead, help them brainstorm solutions and weigh pros and cons.
9. Reframe mistakes
Teach your child that it’s normal to make mistakes or have set-backs with goals. Talk about mistakes or set-backs you’ve had and how you’ve handled them. Keep the focus on what you learned or what you could do differently next time. This approach will help your child feel capable, optimistic, and in control.
10. Ask about SEL at school
Talk to your child’s teacher or principal about what’s going on at school when it comes to SEL. The Government of Alberta supports this approach in schools and many schools have SEL goals or plans in place. Teachers have unique insights on SEL, and often have great advice about how to reinforce your child’s skill development at home.