Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a process of developing self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are essential for school, work, and life success. In recent months, experts have commented on SEL’s importance among adults, particularly parents, educators, and school administrators. However, social and emotional learning is often overlooked among young children – from infants and toddlers – to preschoolers and grammar school students. Case in point, the first few months and years of a child’s life are paramount in how they develop, which makes SEL vital early on.
Children learn from the examples their parents set and SEL can address this. If a parent snaps when being asked a question or angrily snatches an item out of their child’s hands, the child will begin to copy this behavior and exhibit it around their siblings, other children, and adults. Children are mirrors of their parents. If a parent is stressed and acts out, the child will do the same. If a parent is calm, the child will be calm.
Numerous factors can affect a child’s and parent’s SEL abilities such as poverty, home life, mental health, adversity, stress, and wellness. Research shows that children growing up in low-SEL households and communities can have poorer literacy rates, unhealthy relationships, and lower grades. Children and adults with strong social-emotional skills are better able to cope with everyday challenges and benefit academically, professionally, and socially.
For these reasons, and to ensure that every child in Newark gets off to a great start, Newark Trust for Education has launched “Great Start Great Future,” a website and event series designed to provide resources and information, encompassing SEL, to parents and caregivers of children ages 0-3 in Newark. We know the areas where new parents need the most help and our program has the answers and resources. They are:
#1 Developmental milestones – what really counts
New parents want to learn about developmental milestones and trajectories – what their child should be doing and by when. We help parents and caregivers understand that milestones are never a hard and fast rule. Too often they are cause for anxiety, so we provide tools for tracking a child’s growth and development and providing resources when there are concerns.
#2 Parent connections – you’re not alone
We know that parents want to connect with other parents for mutual support and we offer ways to do that. This includes developing SEL skills that they can practice with each other and their children. We also give parents a wealth of community connections to help them in all aspects of raising their young ones.
#3 Mindfulness and creative activities – starting at birth
It’s never too early to start engaging with babies and young children in fun and imaginative ways. Sometimes that’s hard to do home alone, so we encourage parents to engage in activities with their child, and with other parents and children either in person or online. This could be as simple as doing an art project or reading a book together. In relaxed settings like this where the parent or caregiver is fully present, it’s easier for them to show their little ones that they see and hear them, a critical part of SEL.
The first days, months, and years of raising a child bring enormous challenges and joys. There is no question that practicing SEL from the start builds a foundation for healthy behavior, relationships, and positive engagement with the world. Parents need to model positive behavior to their children so that they, in turn, can demonstrate that same behavior with others. When parents learn about SEL, they are often encouraged to find a reason to praise their child every day and to put feelings into words. Saying someone has done a good job, how it makes you feel as the recipient, and that you’d like to see them do it more often is good advice, not just for parents and caregivers, but for everyone!