Feelings and Relationships Matter: A Guide to Social and Emotional Learning
By: Wendy Grove
How well we get along with others can open or close doors for kids and adults alike. When we talk about human development, we know how well a child can get along with others matters for childhood, school and life. Social and emotional learning is the extent to which a child learns how to get along with peers and adults, can appropriately express emotions and develops empathy and skills like self-concept, self-regulation and self-competence. But what do these skills really mean? And, what do they look like?
- When people can appropriately express emotions, they can share feelings of anger, happiness and sadness in socially acceptable ways. Most children learn early on that pinching to express frustration won’t work in life. People do not like to be pinched. A child might think, “I can get in trouble if I pinch. I might get pinched back!” As they grow, kids replace these behaviors with more appropriate ways to express frustration, like telling an adult or moving on to another situation.
- When a person has developed empathy, he can envision or feel what it might be like for someone in a circumstance, even if he hasn’t been in that situation before.
- As someone develops her self-concept, she can see herself as part of a family, a neighborhood, a community, a racial or ethnic group and a nation. She sees how she is different from and like others. These are all skills that come with learning, practice and opportunities to compare oneself to others around them.
- When it comes to developing self-regulation, we often think about bad behavior. Simply put, being able to self-regulate means that a person can delay gratification, demonstrate self-control, identify consequences and take responsibility for his actions. Very young children develop this over time, which is why it is common to see a 2-year-old child crying in a grocery store because the parent denied him a toy. It is much less common to see a 13-year-old child acting out emotionally for being denied something he wants.
- A person with self-competence knows that she has skills and abilities to accomplish things. She understands that trying hard can result in learning new things.
The other part of social and emotional learning is relationships with others. Children learn about interactions with other children and adults, what to expect, who to trust, how to get along with others, how to cooperate, and how to both get what they need and give what they can to help others. Does your preschool-age child share well? Probably not. Not many do. But over time, and with opportunities to practice the skills needed to get along with others, children become able to build relationships with others. The first relationships we build are with our caregivers. The adults that take care of us have an important role in attending to our needs as small people because we cannot do things for ourselves. As children grow and develop independence, they also come to build relationships outside of their families. When children attend school, they must learn how to trust, communicate and interact with other non-family adults, as well as other children.
Social and emotional development and learning are the building blocks for life. These skills are built over time as we age. They are practiced and honed. These are as important as our academic skills for school success because very few of us will attend school alone or live without the need to interact with others. The state currently has standards in this area from for children from birth-grade 3 but does not yet have standards for grades 4-12. Stay tuned for updates from the Department about upcoming work to create standards for social and emotional learning in grades 4-12.
Dr. Wendy Grove is the director of the Office for Early Learning and School Readiness at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps develop and implement policies for preschool special education and early childhood education. You can learn more about Wendy by clicking here.