Today’s parents have never had it harder. Between endless stretches of COVID isolation, increased concerns about making ends meet, and dealing with school openings and closings, it’s hard to keep it all together. Tempers and tensions can intensify at home, which only makes the problems that young people may be facing with friends, relatives, and authority figures at school and in the community harder to address. Too often, too many parents think there’s nothing they can do about it. But there is, and it’s called socio-emotional learning, or SEL.

*Kaleena Berryman is the former Director of Abbot Leadership Institute

Click here to view NTE & ALI's Adult SEL Training Overview

SEL is a method of promoting the development of all parts of your child by teaching children of all ages how to identify and manage their emotions, empathize with others, be aware of themselves, and be more present at the moment. In the classroom, SEL helps children work well with others, boosts their test scores and grades, and promotes on-time graduation. Long-term, SEL has been shown to increase how much adults earn and, and support their overall mental and physical well-being.

But SEL can’t succeed if it’s only practiced in one setting: it has to start at home with parents and family members, then expands into the school district, classroom, and community. Parents are on the front lines of making SEL a lasting priority for how members of their families communicate and interact with each other – and with the world – but they can’t do it alone. SEL can only drive meaningful, long-lasting change when it’s embraced and sustained as a shared responsibility among parents, educators, school administrators, and community leaders. But how can parents learn more about SEL so that they can teach and model these strategies and skills for their kids? One way is for parents to take advantage of formal SEL training offered by local community organizations. This means bringing together small groups of parents and caregivers to create a safe space and collaborative environment where they can explore their communication styles and strategies and become open to learning multiple ways of dealing with different situations. Effective change starts with an open mind and a positive attitude, which is what trained SEL experts practice with their groups. For those parents who do not have the benefit of organized, community-level training, other resources may be found in schools, libraries, and online.

Parents bring a lot to these trainings. They have traditions and practices from their backgrounds that are important to share and explore for SEL to be effective. This is why SEL must start at home. An effective district-family partnership leverages the community’s diversity to ensure that SEL is taught in ways that celebrate the assets, identities, and diversity that students bring to school and wherever they go. 

Wherever SEL is taught, the homework is the same: practice, practice, practice. Parents and children learning about SEL will start by noticing their own behavior, emotional control, language, body language, tone of voice, physical actions, and more. It’s not easy, but it’s exciting to see how even small changes can result in meaningful results. Parents who are learning about this are strongly encouraged to connect with other parents, friends, and family members who are open to learning these new, empowering tools. What’s even more exciting is when parents start successfully practicing SEL behavior, they see  their children also taking on these behaviors. When SEL is taught in schools and at home, the momentum can be powerful – from teacher to child to classmates to parents and beyond; it eventually becomes a way of life, a shift in the outlook.  

Educators and experts alike agree that engaging a broad community of caring adults in SEL is key to its long-lasting benefits, which every child deserves. When diverse district-family partnerships come together to advance SEL at the community level, there’s no telling what can happen.