Category: Social Emotional

July 6, 2021 by Julia Levy 1 Comment

Parents Rank Kids’ Social and Emotional Learning As Top Priority for Coming School Year

SEL Study

Six in ten U.S. parents say their top concern for the coming school year is their child’s social and emotional wellness, about double the percentage of parents who voiced concerns about their children’s academic learning, according to a new national survey. 

Vikki Katz, a mother of two young children and a professor at Rutgers University, who led the study, Learning at Home While Under-connected, said parents’ concerns for their children centered around helping their children readjust to school, express their feelings, develop relationships — both with peers and with teachers — and get used to structure again. 

“Every parent’s primary concern is that their children be well and that their children be happy,” she said. “Up and down the socioeconomic spectrum this year, parents have watched their children be lonely and sad and scared, and felt powerless to really make things better for them. A return to school, symbolically, is a return to something they recognize as more normal and that their children will recognize as more normal.”

Parents Look to Support Children's Social and Emotional Wellness As We Move Toward the 2021-22 School Year
Vikki Katz

She said many parents found it possible to approximate academic learning at home: children could practice their shapes, numbers, colors, and early literacy skills. 

But interrupted in-person school paused social and emotional learning. Socialization and relationship building cannot be replaced at home — especially for young children who can’t interact with peers on the phone or play with each other via video chat. 

Dr. Katz said as parents look toward the fall, many are using educational media to explain the pandemic and big questions to their children; this is especially true among families who are more “under-connected.” 

She said many families are also starting to ease their children back into more “normal” social settings to start the process of learning (or re-learning) lessons like sharing, cooperating, and understanding how to express different feelings: “All of the kinds of relationships that make a childhood are slowly returning. So whether it’s in the form of formal structures this summer — childcare, camp, etc. — or whether it’s just spending time with cousins and extended family members, all of these are things that both children and adults have been craving.”

Helping Children Identify Their Emotions

Key Takeaways:
  • Identifying emotions helps children communicate their feelings and provides them with tools to feel confident expressing themselves.
  • Encourage children to notice their physical and behavioral expressions of different emotions.
  • When children are aware of their emotions they can practice more effective regulation strategies.

Emotions can be confusing and overwhelming for adults, so just imagine how it must feel for a young child. Children feel a vast array of emotions daily, sometimes experiencing quick shifts between each one. On top of that, children are realizing that they can have multiple feelings at the same time. It’s a lot!

“Big” emotions (e.g. anger, sadness) can be particularly challenging for children who don’t yet know how to communicate and manage their feelings effectively.

Encouraging children to label and describe their feelings, both in everyday moments as well as during times they’re experiencing difficult emotions, can help children build emotion awareness.1 However, it is important to keep in mind that discussions about big and difficult emotions happen best after your child has had time to decompress!

When children have a greater awareness of their emotions and a vocabulary to communicate their feelings, they have the tools to tell you how they are feeling, which allows them to seek help and work on emotion regulation strategies.1

So the next time your child feels upset, they might recognize the sensation of a faster heartbeat, tenderness in the throat, and increased body temperature — and think to themselves, “I’m feeling angry.” This awareness can lead to action, seeking comfort from an adult or taking some time to cool off.

As children build their emotional literacy, they develop confidence in the way they experience their own emotions and learn that feelings can change.2 As children grow older, their understanding of emotions evolves with time.

What does identifying emotions look like at different ages?

3-4 years

  • Labeling distinct emotions, like “happy” and “sad.”
  • Using language to describe their feelings, “I feel happy when I pet the cat.”
  • Exploring that they have different ways to express different feelings, “I stomp my feet when I’m mad and I laugh when I’m happy.”
  • Trying out a variety of ways to show their feelings, and noticing how others receive and respond to those feelings.

4-5 years

  • With adult support, identifying which regulation strategies work for them, and beginning to practice them independently.
  • Understanding that feelings can change or have different levels of stimulation, (e.g., the feeling of frustration as opposed to anger).
  • Exploring the idea that you can feel more than one feeling at the same time.

5-6 years

  • Beginning to understand more complex emotions like worry and trust
  • Expressing that their feelings change throughout the day.
  • Identifying appropriate ways to express their changing emotions in different contexts.
  • Increased confidence and autonomy in choosing regulation strategies and communicating emotions.
Here are some ways to help your child assess their emotions:
  • Model emotion awareness in your own life. 3 When your child sees you experiencing feelings, name them: “I’m feeling really sad that we can’t visit Grandma right now. I really miss her.”
  • Help children understand the connection between body language, facial expressions, and emotions by specifically pointing them out. 3 For example, “I can see that you are hiding behind me and covering your face, are you feeling scared?”
  • When you’re playing pretend or telling stories, have the characters express a range of emotions and play out different scenarios. 4 Role play and storytelling are excellent ways to learn about and practice emotions!
  • Let your child feel their feelings—the good, the bad, and the ugly. 5 Try not to convince them that they’re “fine,” when they’ve expressed (possibly very loudly, and of course in public), that they are not in fact fine. Let them experience and process their emotions. Afterward, have a conversation about appropriate ways to manage their emotions in the future.

May 2, 2021 by Noelle Yoo 0 Comments

How Journaling Can Foster Community During Times of Stress and Uncertainty

As a third grade teacher at an independent school in Boston, I knew that my school was doing all it could to prepare teachers for the 2020-21 school year. But in the summer of 2020, I was constantly feeling stress, anxiety, and frustration. After being remote for several months, I wondered: Will I feel safe going back into our school building? Is it possible to build a community over Zoom? How will we make sure everyone will follow the health and safety guidelines? What about all the kids in schools that won’t be able to reopen? 

The beginning of the school year always marks an exciting new journey for students, and I wanted to create the same enthusiasm for the new school year that I always had. I didn’t want to bring my negative emotions into my time with the children. I needed to be there for them so that they could feel a sense of normalcy. Now, I laugh that I thought hiding my emotions would help create normalcy.

There was nothing normal about this year.

In the same way that vulnerability in a time of unpredictability is scary and uncomfortable for adults, I quickly learned that the children in my classroom were experiencing those same feelings of worry, fear, and concern. 

What makes children and adults different is that children don’t have the same tools as adults do to process emotions. 

The physical distance we had to keep, not being able to see each other’s faces through masks, and the rigidity and time-consuming nature of the health and safety rules while instituting an important level of safety were obstacles for community building.

Journaling together was one way that my students and I combatted the stress of the year and built community in our third grade classroom, against the odds.

Every day, my co-teacher and I set aside 15-20 minutes to play calming music, sit with our journals, and write with the kids. 

The purpose of this time was empowering students with strategies for calming their bodies and minds, and showing them how a journal can be used as a mode for expression and reflection. As I wrote, I used a document camera to project my own journal.  One day I created a comic strip about what I did over the weekend and the next I wrote a poem about how I miss seeing my grandparents. There were no rules. Want to write a poem? Awesome. Want to draw a picture? Amazing. Need to take the day to just think? Great choice. 

How we set up this space for children has been an important element of its success. The factors that have made this time engaging and meaningful are that the children are encouraged to use real life and prompts to inspire their authoring; they are free to create with or without a set structure; the time is passion-oriented and student-directed with teacher support (Bruyère & Pendergrass, 2020). 

We closed out our journaling time with a share-circle. Sharing was always optional. Some kids chose to share every day. It took other kids time, watching their peers share for weeks before wanting to share. Share-circles offer children an opportunity to build confidence in their writing, reading and even speaking abilities when sharing orally. They help to establish a sense of community and offer the chance to share important home-school connections as well as learn new things about their peers, developing deeper, more authentic relationships with classmates (Routman 2004; Hall 2014).

This year, the transformation and healing that journaling and share-circles brought to each of us as individuals and to all of us as a community, was empowering. In a time and space that can feel so isolating and uncertain, this became a daily moment of community and unity.

Here are a few steps that you can try to encourage journaling in your classroom or home:

  1. Find two journals or make your own (fold and staple several pieces of paper together). If you’d like, spend a day decorating and designing your journal with your child(ren) with whatever materials you have available.
  2. Find a calm space you can write (or draw) together with your child(ren). 
  3. Consistency is important. Set up a consistent time to sit down for 15 minutes and write together. It can be daily, weekly, before bed, at breakfast — whatever works for you. 
  4. Offer a few minutes at the end to share with each other. Keep it optional and communicate expectations for feedback. It can be helpful at the beginning to model what it looks and sounds like to share something personal. 
  5. Keep it open and have fun!