6 Simple Strategies to Teach Social and Emotional Learning Skills for Kids: The Key to Positive Mental Health

Children are expected to use social and emotional skills continuously every day, however for some children these skills can be quite challenging to understand and learn.  Social and emotional learning is “the process through which children and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions.”

kids happy calm self control

Having age appropriate social and emotional learning skills allows children to be successful in their relationships and play situations with others. Some of these skills include communication, cooperation, sharing, problem solving, anger management and conflict resolution. Good social and emotional skills also assist children in holding positive perceptions of themselves.

What are social and emotional learning skills?

When considering social and emotional learning skills, there are 5 key components that allow us to be successful in our day-to-day interactions with others:

  • Self-awareness: recognising our own emotions and triggers for emotions, as well as understanding our strengths and limitations
  • Self-management: managing our emotions and behaviours in order to persist and achieve our goals
  • Social awareness: recognising the emotions of others and understanding how to respond positively to others
  • Relationship skills: forming positive relationships, working with others in teams, managing conflict effectively
  • Responsible decision-making: making positive choices about personal and social behaviour

The target of social and emotional learning is the prefrontal cortex of the brain, or what we like to call “the breaks”. “The breaks” of the brain is responsible for executive functioning which assists with organisation and regulation. One of the main jobs of “the breaks” is to communicate with the limbic system, which we like to call “the accelerator”. “The accelerator” is responsible for managing emotions and reactive and impulsive behaviour. By working with children to develop their social and emotional skills, we are working on making “the breaks” stronger and more affective at communicating and controlling “the accelerator”.

When developing a child’s social and emotional skills, it is important that we remember to prepare the child for the world around them, rather than trying to protect them from challenges that might come their way. Providing children with strategies so they can tolerate low levels of stress can actually help them build their executive functioning and resilience skills.

If your child is displaying difficulties in any of the above areas, some of the following strategies may be beneficial to their social and emotional development.

6 strategies to assist your child:

  • Understanding the difference between ‘bumps’ (tolerable stress) and ‘hazards’ (toxic stress) and applying the right ‘tools’ (strategies) for the situation
    • Bumps: friendship issues, teasing, minor learning difficulties, coping with disappointment, coping with loss etc.
    • Hazards: social isolation, bullying, anxiety, depression, significant learning difficulties, big left events etc.
  • The Thinking-Feeling-Behaving Loop
    • Event – thinking – feeling – behaviour – outcome – (loop)
  • The Thinking Traffic Lanes
    • Supa Thinkin vs. Straight Thinkin vs. Stinkin Thinkin
    • Children have a choice about what lane they take and what response they have to a social situation. We can also teach them that they don’t always have to take the lane that they first think of. They can learn to be strong enough to choose another and more appropriate lane instead!
  • De-catastrophising
    • How big is the problem? Is it little, medium or big? We can help children to learn to scale their responses and try and get away from the first impulse ‘all or nothing’ response. Improving executive functioning helps with this, as we can train the brain to help manage thinking patterns and exhibit impulse control.
  • Calming down bubble breathing
  • The Triple B’s Calming Down
    • Breathing in and out slowly
    • Helping our Brain do Supa Thinkin
    • Identifying how out Body feels and continuing until our brain and heart feel calm and our arms and legs are soft and floppy (not tense)

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you think your child would benefit from any of the above strategies or if you would like to learn more about social and emotional leaKattMatthewsOccupationalTherapist-smallrning.

-Katt Matthews, Occupational Therapist

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