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What is a Big Lesson Learned from the Pandemic? The Importance of Parents in Social Emotional Education

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Since March, parents around the world have been thrown into the role of teacher, personal trainer and social skills coach. As we struggle to understand how to do the new math, (why did it need to change anyway?), help small children learn letter sounds and teach music concepts 101, we’re stunned by the enormity and complexity that social distancing has thrust on us all. We search online. We frantically call friends. We enlist our older children as aids to help us figure out how to help our children learn in what is looking like the “lost year.”

Which to Emphasize: Math or Social Emotional Learning?
Schools have also been thrust into the abyss; stretched thin trying to promote social emotional learning in a hybrid format while students and teachers face a shortage of mental health supports.

Social Emotional Needs Can’t be Put on Hold
As a parent, I am starting to recognize that academics may be lost, or at least put on the slow burner this year. American history and the invasion of Europe in WW2 will still be there next year, and children everywhere are in the same boat. But what about our children’s mental health? Can we just “sit it out” this year? What about their social emotional needs? Is it OK to withdraw? Is it OK to only communicate virtually? Is it OK to not even leave the house?

Parents Now Own the Role of Social Coach too!
Despite schools’ efforts, social skills training is left to the parents. But how? Parents can barely figure out the new way to do math, yet alone build their child or teen’s emotional IQ. This is where parent education has fallen short. Most parents now realize that the need for social emotional learning has become clear. But who is doing the coaching? Schools are overwhelmed keeping students and staff safe and forward-moving academically.

Enter Parents as Social Emotional Coaches
Parents are a child’s first role model, coach, advocate and educator. Research has shown that modeling, parent intervention and parent reinforcement are critical pieces of a child’s learning process. Now, well into the pandemic, we realize that parents have been thrust into the great unknown, without a playbook. This pandemic has left us all scrambling and we should take a vital lesson from this past year—parent education is not optional—it’s a must.

Social Emotional Learning 2.0
We have seen things we couldn’t have imagined only a few months ago. We now see that schools are not immune to wide-spread, long-term closings. We now see that children, when isolated from peers and routine, can spiral into depression. We now see parents overwhelmed by the enormity of their new roles; roles that do not come with handbooks.

Rather than returning to the previous system, we must move to an academic and social emotional learning experience that includes parents.

Parent Academic and Social Emotional
Combining academics with social emotional learning is a requirement and parents must be included as an integral role in the school, family, community partnership. It is clear that if these 3 components of the learning environment are not collaborative, ongoing instruction will suffer. Open and transparent homework plans, curriculum and teaching methods will foster trust, reinforcement and deeper understanding.

Parents are on the front lines, right alongside professionals.

With the right resources, we can stave off greater mental health hazards.

5 Ways Parents Can Promote Social Emotional Learning:

  1. Positive Modeling —Your child is watching, probably now more than ever since you are spending more time together. Share your frustration in not seeing friends. Explain how it can be hard for you to ask others for help, yet sometimes it is critical. Be on the lookout for opportunities to work on yourself and learn new skills. Show your child a positive social connection by reaching out, cultivating relationships and talking about friendship. If you are a wallflower or struggle to connect to other people, talk about it.
  2. Reinforce the Positive—“I love it when you are flexible.” “I notice you really tried to ignore your sister’s nagging.” Anytime you can find a behavior you would like to see again, comment immediately. This will inspire your child to exhibit this behavior again, and hopefully spread the energy to others.
  3. Make social emotional learning a part of daily life—The more you encourage and coach self-awareness, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, the more his skills will grow. Make empathy and perspective-taking part of daily life. Ask open ended questions such as, “What could be going on for your friend?” Help him step into his friend’s shoes to experience his feelings.
  4. Listen and notice even small wins—Every effort to change is a move in a positive direction. Notice and point out small wins for your child. Especially in these times, anything positive is a good thing!
  5. Adapt how you socialize and communicate— Your child is part of a larger community and her actions have consequences. Help her fit into new groups and make friends by being the first to say “hi,” ask a question or invite another to participate.

If we learned anything in this pandemic, it is that it takes a village to raise a child. Community, school, and home working collaboratively is the framework of a strong society.

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