Support Early Development with Social & Emotional Learning 

What is social-emotional learning?  

Child holding rock representing a surprised face

Social-emotional learning, or SEL for short, is the process of educating children on how to identify and manage their emotions. It is an important process for early development as it helps children build relationships, cope with stress, and form a better understanding of themselves and how to regulate their feelings. There is a huge link between SEL and mental health, since it creates emotional maturity, and expands the feeling of control over one’s thoughts and life. It creates empathy and helps children put routines in place for ways to handle extreme emotions when they arise. SEL encourages children to familiarize themselves with ways to handle different emotions such as anger, excitement, jealousy, worrying, happiness and sadness.  

Why is it important for early development? 

Social-emotional learning is very valuable for early development as it helps set up skills that are important for day-to-day interactions with other people as well as one’s own self-control. Emotion management can be difficult for young children, and it can often remain a challenge in teen and adult years. This is an example of how early development can set the stage for later years, as habits, attention to actions, and control are all a huge part of successfully managing emotions. SEL is also important for awareness, as it teaches children to be aware of their communication with others, become a more understanding friend, and compassionate community member.  

SEL builds a foundation for a cooperative and happy classroom, and research shows that SEL leads to less emotional distress, better grades, test scores and focusing abilities. This also benefits teachers who as a result, spend less time disciplining students. Emotions heavily affect learning and behaviour, often causing students to talk out of turn or be a distraction to themselves or their peers. SEL is incredible because it goes beyond just helping children in the classroom – it helps children throughout a lifetime.  

SEL is incredible because it goes beyond just helping children in the classroom – it helps children throughout a lifetime.  

children in a classroom learning about emotions with their teacher

What are the five components in social emotional learning? 

There are five main components to SEL learning and focusing on these individual components is a significant step in creating independent, successful and confident learners. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified these 5 components in social emotional learning that are connected to competencies: 

  1. Self-awareness 

Being aware of oneself, abilities, feelings, strengths, and weaknesses. This is a huge part in creating new and better habits for emotional regulation, as it is important to be conscious of weaknesses to improve.  

  1. Self-management 

Controlling behaviours and impulses, managing stress and motivation to set and achieve realistic goals. Self-management can take some adjusting to, as reprogramming your brain to recognize situations in a separate way can be a learning curve.  

  1. Social awareness 

The ability to identify other people’s emotions and understand other point of views with empathy and compassion. Social awareness is the ability to recognize social cues, facial expressions, and being capable of stepping outside their own experiences and feel for others, regardless of their background or circumstance. 

  1. Relationship skills 

Being able to build and maintain relationships and create positive personal interactions while playing and working with others. This can look like engaging in productive conversations, asking questions, effective communication habits and being an inclusive friend.    

  1. Responsible decision-making 

Being conscious of consequences and making good decisions. Responsible decision making is a huge part of development, since it helps children understand cause and effect and prepares them immensely for the future. Even simple decisions like seating arrangements or clothing choices help children develop a sense of authority over their own lives and helps them feel in control and capable of making their own resolutions. 

How can social-emotional learning be used to help emotion management/behaviours and where should I start?  

As an educator, there are many things we can do to help children learn how to self-regulate. For starters, identifying what kind of problems students are having. Are you noticing a lot of fidgeting? What about accomplishing goals and meeting deadlines? Are students experiencing a lot of conflict amongst each other? Sometimes the simplest tasks can make the biggest difference, and when it comes to social-emotional learning starting off with small tasks and information gathering can be a great first step. 

Even simple decisions like seating arrangements or clothing choices help children develop a sense of authority over their own lives and helps them feel in control and capable of making their own resolutions. 

  • Start simple. SEL conversations do not need to be extreme or even out of the ordinary. Observe behaviours. It is easier to help settle certain emotions once you have noticed a reoccurring pattern. Watch children in your classroom interact and get a sense for their personalities, tempers and habits. 
  • Encourage conversation. Ask students what they are struggling with and identify the problems, what are triggering them, and steps to put in place to help calm down or moderate the situation in the future. Make sure all students know that it is important to talk about their feelings and express them, and that keeping them inside and feeling alone is not the answer. 
  • Educate them about how to have empathy for other students. It is incredibly important to make sure children can put themselves in other people’s shoes and feel for them. Ensure that they are aware of being sensitive to other people’s situations and encourage them to treat their classmates with kindness!  
  • Check in with your students. Ask them how their day is, or how their weekend was. This is a fantastic way to show you care and help students feel like they are included, and it makes them want to reciprocate the energy. Start every day with a simple “How are you feeling?” question to make them feel supported.  
  • Start every morning with a positive reminder. Encouraging and giving positive feedback to children can really help them have a positive self-esteem.  Ask children to write something nice about themselves each day. This helps build a constructive and supportive feeling in the classroom!  
two young girl having fun with a guitar and fishing net outdoors

How can I help my students regulate themselves emotionally?  

There are many exercises students and educators alike can engage in to help understand social emotional learning and set them up with positive emotion regulation skills. Encouraging children to express their feelings in a healthy way instead of repressing them is a great first step, as many children (and adults alike) have difficulty speaking about their emotions as they feel they should be kept inside. Encourage students to speak about how they are feeling and remind them by asking them how they are feeling consistently. Teach them ways to cope when these feelings arise. Imagine a toolbox equipped with everything you may need to fix something. Sometimes you need a drill, other times you may need a small pair of pliers. That is kind of what coping with emotions is like. Every situation is different, but the common theme is still the same, and you need to adapt these tools and strategies for different emotions.  

 Here are some tips and lessons to help guide your classroom through social emotional learning. 

  • Show and discuss a feeling wheel. Feeling wheels can be very helpful when identifying emotions, as they are colour coded and can familiarize themselves with the colours that correspond with the matching emotion. This is a huge help for those who are visual learners especially. Ask questions like “what feelings do you think when you think of the colour blue?” and discuss these emotional connections. Doing an art project and using different colours is a creative way to allow students to demonstrate the correlation between emotion and colour. 
girls playing, smiling and painting
  • Validate their feelings. No matter how big or how small a situation is, the emotions that follow it can often grab a strong hold on us. Having an adult listen to their feelings and tell them that it is okay to feel the way they do as opposed to “just get over it” or “stop complaining” can make a world of difference. Instead of saying something like ‘Stop feeling nervous”, try something like “Lots of people get nervous when speaking in front of other people. What can we do to help you feel less nervous?” This can significantly help students to feel validated, safe understood and encourages suggested solutions for emotional regulation to come from them directly. 
  • Pay attention to the senses. Ask students to identify five things they can see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. Encourage students to do this exercise when they experience extreme emotions, as it helps them stay grounded when they are in a panic. Teach about breathing lessons, such as taking deep breaths in and out and ways to use this to become calm in high stress situations. 
  • Write positive affirmations for classmates. Pair up some classmates and ask them to write some positive qualities about each other. Even simple affirmations and compliments can make a difference and help children work towards better self-esteems and learning more about each other to learn more about empathy and inclusivity. 
  • Teach about changing mindset and language. Changing phrases from “I can’t do it” and “This is hard” to more affirming language like “I can do it once I keep trying” and “This will take effort and time”. Brainstorm ways as a class to change the language you are using boost confidence and find solutions. The Mindset Bulletin Board set and the Grow For It! Mini Bulletin Board Set are great visuals to start with. 
young girl learning during early development with her teacher

What are some childcare resources and educational supplies that can help regulate emotions?  

Every child’s needs can look different. One specific and very common thing a lot of children struggle with focus and ability to stay still, especially during teaching lessons. This can cause anger and frustration in children, which can stay bottled up and become difficult for children to maintain and keep under control and often result in lashing out or tantrums.   

Some suggestions to regulate these tough emotions are using various stimulating toys, such as the wiggle seatbalance ball chairfidget foot rollerwiggle wobble chair feet, and bouncyband for desks. These products by Bouncyband are fantastic because they are available in multiple sizes and colours to best accommodate the student. They are perfect at getting out wiggles and fidgets and helps refocus learning so that students can be at their best. Assisting in letting out their frustrations and restlessness can help productivity and mental clarity and help the class mood become lighter and more on track. They promote energy and stamina to help children be more attentive.  

child sitting at desk reading with Wiggle Wobble Chair Feet

Children are happier when their brains are stimulated and are mentally engaged. The clearer they can think guides them in the right direction in all aspects of learning. Bouncyband offers more solutions than just seating arrangements; they also offer incredible sensory toys that help fidgeting fingers which are often a product of anxiety. The thingmajig or the fidget phone are both great for children who feel overstimulated and require hands on learning to help them refocus. 

child sitting at desk with book and sensory toy

Reading about emotions is a great way to help students learn about SEL. Book series like the Dealing with Feeling series looks at a different emotion commonly experienced by young children such as angry, caring, happy, jealous, proud, sad, shy and worried. Another great reading choice is Have You Filled a Bucket Today, an award-winning heart-warming book that encourages positive behaviour as children see how very easy and rewarding it is to express kindness, appreciation and love daily. The books help readers to identify their emotions and provide tips and advice on how best to express and deal with them. Another option could be breaking out into groups and playing Social Emotional Learning Games, like Personal Growth GamesConflict Resolution Games, and Social Skills Game to learn about emotions with a more fun, playful, and interactive approach. The Explore Emotions Super Doll encourages discussions about feelings with this cute and soft doll. By using the Velcro facial features, students can create 16 different emotions on the dolls face. 

child holding stuffed doll featuring a confused face

Social-emotional learning focuses on personal difficulties and how to improve them, such as focusing ability, restlessness, conflict resolution, teamwork, setting goals, and coping with emotions. It serves a purpose of benefiting personal growth and managing day to day tasks. SEL may seem complex and complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Starting with small conversations, tips and discussions and ease the way into emotional regulation and decision making. Learning is different for every child, especially when each child is unique and has different ways of learning. Offering solutions to different problems and listening to children’s voices is very important because they know their styles and needs best, so taking a lead from them by asking for ideas and input is fantastic to make sure your teaching style is adequate to their learning style. 

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