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Why is Social and Emotional Learning so Important to a Child’s Development?

By Fraser School Director Chris Bentley and Fraser Senior Education Coordinator Elizabeth Eng and Pam Dewey • social and emotional learning, social and emotional learning kids, teaching kids emotions, kids and social skills, developing social skills, managing emotions, managing feelings, childrens development, kids and development, Fraser School, inclusive school, inclusive preschool, inclusive daycare, early child development center, school for children with disabilities, school for disabled children • June 08, 2023

We’ve all been in line behind the toddler throwing a tantrum at the store. The child is screaming and crying with their cheeks turning a deep shade of red, while their parent tries to soothe or distract them.

For the parent, it’s a sweaty-palms-desperate-to-disappear situation. But for the child, it’s just bewildering. Children have to learn to recognize and respond to their emotions. They don’t automatically understand or know how to manage their feelings. When their dad says “No,” they may recognize they don’t like that, but likely can’t understand what they’re feeling is disappointment, and they certainly don’t know how to respond. Instead, they cry and scream.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) teaches children to manage and identify their emotions and provides them with a foundation to develop successful relationships and better understand others. The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments states, “Social and emotional learning (SEL) involves the processes through which children and adults acquire and effectively 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.”

SEL builds the foundation for a child’s future

Fraser School® is an inclusive environment that welcomes children who are neurodiverse, neurotypical and have disabilities. It serves children from 6 weeks to 6 years of age through childcare, preschool and pre-K programs that prepare children for lifelong educational success. Social and emotional learning is the foundation of their curriculum.

Social and emotional learning teaches kids to:

  • Understand how emotions feel in their body
  • Regulate emotions
  • Solve conflicts
  • Build self-esteem
  • Work with peers to solve problems
  • Be independent
  • Identify people to trust
  • Build relationships

“We want to teach kids to not rely on others to validate their self-esteem and how to form positive relationships with their peers, and not just adults,” says Fraser School Director Chris Bentley. “We also teach them how to understand what their bodies are feeling, so they can learn to manage emotions, particularly those big feelings.”

SEL skills support a child’s lifelong well-being. According to the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, “SEL promotes young people's academic success, health and well-being at the same time that it prevents a variety of problems such as alcohol and drug use, violence, truancy and bullying.”

Teaching children social and emotional skills

Social and emotional skills can be taught in many ways. At Fraser School, Senior Education Coordinator Elizabeth Eng uses puppets Wally and Molly to connect with kids. Wally may share a problem, like spending a long time building a tower of blocks, and then his friend knocks it down. Then the group talks about how a child might feel in this situation and how they could respond. Elizabeth says this also gives children the chance to relate to each other, since many children have likely experienced a similar situation. This builds empathy and understanding of others.

During these group exercises, children also practice deep breathing, which is a calming technique. Elizabeth may also use a feelings chart, so children can talk about when they’ve felt angry or excited. Then the group discusses what to do when they’re experiencing certain emotions.

At Fraser School, children also build social and emotional skills through games where they take turns or solve a problem together. ConfidentParentsConfident has a variety of interesting games to encourage SEL, like a different spin on I Spy, called “I Spy Interesting People.” In this version, children say, “I spy with my little eye a person who is happy… sad…bored.” The website also suggests expanding on “a child’s feelings vocabulary by adding in creative or lesser-discussed emotions such as disgusted, peppy or inspired.” ConfidentParentsConfident also includes activity ideas like Create Your Own Feelings Poster, Hanging up the Anger Suit and Pass the Face.

SEL creates more equity and inclusivity

As children learn more about themselves and others, they build empathy. Empathy allows people to understand others’ differences and how they might feel, making it a crucial part of creating equity and inclusivity. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), which introduced the term SEL, states, “To learn best, young people need to be surrounded by trusting relationships and environments where they feel motivated and engaged, emotionally and physically safe and a sense of belonging among adults and peers.”

Developing this type of understanding and belonging occurs naturally at Fraser School. Children who are neurodiverse, neurotypical and have disabilities learn about, and from, each other’s differences.

“We serve a diverse group of kids, and we really celebrate those differences,” says Chris. “Everyone has something to share with the world, and we encourage the children to teach each other and, of course, us as well.”

Elizabeth agrees. “It’s so fun working here, and you hear these stories about children who have attended Fraser School and grown into advocates in their own right. They may go on to work at nonprofits supporting marginalized people or become anti-bullying advocates for kids with disabilities. And the foundation of empathy and understanding was something they gained here, learning and playing beside their classmates.”

To learn more about encouraging social and emotional learning in your child, consider the books listed below, which were purchased by Fraser School with grant funds from the Rotary Club of Edina: