Families Play an Important Role in Social-Emotional Learning at School

The secret is out: social-emotional learning, sometimes known as SEL, has huge benefits for students. Not only can it help with grades and test scores, but it also teaches students the skills needed to live a healthy and productive life — like regulating emotions, how to build resilience to stress and challenges, make responsible decisions, and collaborate well with others.

But new research suggests that SEL has widespread impacts beyond a classroom as well. A 2017 study from Princeton shows that SEL is one solution to public health issues, defined as “an approach that seeks to improve the general population’s well-being.” 

Social-emotional learning shouldn’t stop when the final bell rings. It is critical that we involve parents in social-emotional practices so that students can apply these concepts to life outside the classroom. How can we help families foster these skills at home?

Here are five strategies for engaging parents and families about SEL:

Educate Students and Families

Educating families on the importance of building core social-emotional skills is where it starts. Many families are fostering these positive behaviors at home already; it can greatly benefit parents to create an infographic or flyer that formally introduces these concepts in a more concrete manner. Send students home with this information as an important first step in including families and parents.

Maintain Open Communication With Parents

After families have the base knowledge of what SEL is, maintaining open communication gives parents the support they need to encourage these behaviors at home. The challenge is that one method of communication will not work for all families. Brainstorm different methods of support that you can offer: texting, phone calls, parent support groups, video conferences, or assemblies. Find ways to involve families in the school’s SEL initiatives and share students’ progress with their loved ones.

IMG_1868 (1)Generate Take-Home Resources

Update parents and families with resources and materials regularly. Send your students home with information and tips for SEL that can be applied at home. Switch it up too–send informative one-pagers one month and activities the next. Is there a designated individual at your school or district that can handle families’ SEL-related inquiries? Is there anywhere on the school website that has SEL related information? If not, can you create a blog or Facebook group for parents? Think about how you can store and share the rich library of resources you’re building.

Celebrate Family Success

Parents already have a hard enough job, so celebrating the work they are already doing goes a long way. In SEL, it is critical that we recognize when we do well. Conversations during dinner, playtime at home, regularly checking in with their child’s feelings, bonding over an evening television program–these are just some of the things that parents and caregivers are doing every day with their children. Remind them how important these activities are.

Lead With Equity

When involving families in this process, lead with empathy and equity. SEL requires us to challenge our own biases. Consider any and all possible factors that may have an impact, like cultural background, religion, trauma, and life experience. Recognize and acknowledge the privilege of being able to take part in our students’ social-emotional learning.

Involving families in SEL provides school leaders and teachers with the opportunity to authentically connect with the families and caregivers of their students. Encourage families to take ownership over their own social-emotional learning. Send home resources that adults can also use, and utilize open communication to validate whatever feelings may arise in the process. Remember, social emotional learning is a vulnerable process.

Encouraging families to participate in their child’s social emotional learning not only benefits their child, but the parent as well. This contributes a healthy and happy community.

Photo credit: Move This World

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7 thoughts on “Families Play an Important Role in Social-Emotional Learning at School

  1. Not only are the strategies sound and easy to implemented that are suggested here, this strategy should be adopted by every School District Wellness Council. The Family and Community connections that are so necessary in adopting the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model would be very appropriate here. Finally, we must consider the school community to be the most necessary first step in public health prevention efforts, whereby the focus can be on population health based on sound knowledge and behavioral skills to last a lifetime.

  2. Completely agree with you, Dr. Loughrey. We strongly believe that all students should engage in a foundational, tier 1 support that helps to build and strengthen core social and emotional skills. By working with families and communities, we create environments that are more supportive of our students needs and begin to form a common language to productively and authentically talk about mental health and wellness.

  3. Great points! SEL is most effective when teachers can communicate with parents about the lessons being taught and how best to reinforce them at home. Thanks for all the useful tips on keeping families engaged and helping them and their students get the most out of SEL.

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