Don’t worry parents, I didn’t know either. Luckily, the internet does, and now I’m here to pass my findings along to you. When you Google “SEL” the first result brings you to this page on The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) website. I was impressed by the amount of information on display here, and I encourage you to check out the site for yourself to learn more.

Essentially, SEL refers to the process of developing knowledge and skills apart from those gained in a traditional classroom. This includes goal management, empathy, relationship building, how to handle negative emotions, really anything that makes your child a better person, rather than a better student (though the two overlap quite a bit). So, here are 5 core competencies CASEL identified that support SEL, along with our tips to help you incorporate them into your family.

One: Self-Awareness Tip

Michael Manos, Ph.D. has worked for more than 25 years in pediatric psychology, and he emphasizes that in order for children to truly understand the consequences of their actions, parents should stop asking their children why they do things, and instead use the 4 WHATs (what did you do, what happened when you did that, what could you have done instead, and what would have happened if you had).  As with most strategies, this is not nearly as useful if you and/or your child is upset, so try to create a calm, non-blaming atmosphere before you initiate.

Two: Self-Management

This includes impulse control, stress management, goal setting, etc. One helpful tip for fostering these skills is explaining the reasons behind your parenting rules. Instead of telling your child to complete their homework “because I said so,” clarify your thought process so they can better understand where you’re coming from. “If you finish your work now, you’ll have more free time later tonight to do the things you want to do.” This peek behind the curtain of your parenting rules can help children create rules for themselves. For more self-management strategies, check out this Psychology Today article by Laura Markham Ph.D.

Three: Social Awareness

CASEL defines social awareness as perspective-taking, empathy, appreciating diversity, and respect for others. These are all learned through face-to-face interaction, not through a screen. If two children are in a playground, and one calls the other stupid, we all know what will happen: the “stupid” child will react negatively in some way (crying, returning the insult, getting a teacher or parent, etc.). Hopefully, this will catalyze feelings of guilt and shame in the other child, feelings that prevent this behavior from happening again. But when this interaction happens digitally, the child can’t see the impact of their actions, and the corrective emotions are weakened, or worse, completely absent. Try limiting your child’s screen time to two hours or less a day and focus on meaningful, in-person connections.

Four: Relationship Skills

This is all about the value of teamwork, communication, and social engagement. My tip? Be the best role model you can be. Your child will observe and learn from all social interactions they’re privy to, from family conversations to ordering at a restaurant. As CASEL states, if you can “communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed,” your child will follow suit.

Five: Responsible Decision-Making

Ah yes, the art of making good decisions. I say art, and not science, because making the “right” decision is highly dependent on the individual, and the context in which they find themselves. The relevant parental strategies I’ve found will seem familiar. Be a role model, explain the thinking behind your decision, use the 4 WHATs to help your child noodle through their own decisions, and make sure that it’s all being done face-to-face. There is a lot of crossover here, and that’s a good thing for parents that already have a lot on their minds.

With these tips in mind, you are now in a great position to facilitate your child’s SEL. It may seem daunting at first (I can certainly attest to seeing home videos of myself as a child and wanting to scream at the TV in frustration over how selfish or ignorant I was). But in time, they’ll improve and develop into the wonderful human beings they were meant to be.

By Seth Gilbert