September 10, 2020

How to Promote Social-Emotional Learning in Youth

By Trish Whetstone |

As our local communities and the country at large come to face a school year like never before, strategies to protect students’ mental, social and emotional well-being are of the utmost importance. This is where SEL skills really shine. 

SEL stands for Social-Emotional Learning and is defined by The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” 

CASEL-Wheel.pngThe utilization of SEL skill building in youth has been shown through decades of research to have significant positive outcomes including:

  • Improvements in academic performance & classroom behaviors
  • Stress and emotional management
  • Prevention of conduct problems, drug use, and even poverty
  • Long-term impacts, 18 years after SEL interventions
  • An $11 return for every $1 invested in SEL programming 

So how can your organization, school, or family promote and practice these impactful skills with young people? 

Tip #1 - Utilize Evidence-Based Practices

Take the guesswork out of teaching social emotional learning by following evidence-based curriculums such as Second Step, specially designed to teach decision making, emotion management, and social skills. Other fan favorites include the Life Skills Training and the Too Good Programs. Evidence from scientific research shows these programs are actually consistently effective. These done-for-you sets have engaging games, journal prompts, and discussion based items so that students not only learn about these skills, but more importantly, practice them. Check out CASEL’s Program Guides for more. 

Tip #2 - Weave into Routines 

Integrate SEL skills into routines, such as regular deep breathing and emotion check ins. Create signature practices that provide predictability and consistent use of social and emotional management skills. Other rituals to try might include journaling practices, creation of vision boards, or routine goal setting “challenges” that allow kids to encourage each other to reach their goals, and celebrate their progress. 

Tip #3 - K.I.S.S & Tell

Keep It Simple, Stupid! And then Tell the ‘why’ behind it. Sometimes, simplicity is key, and the most effective strategies are ones that kids can understand the purpose of, while still having some simple fun. 

Games like Simon Says and Telephone promote creative decision making, effective communication, self-regulation and patience. Activities inspired by Charades and Heads Up can easily be turned into lessons on emotion recognition and compassion, with brief discussions on the importance of noticing how people around us are feeling. 

Remember “K.I.S.S and Tell,” or better yet, have youth tell you the lessons to be learned from each game or activity and how the group can work together to better their skills. This will help children instill a sense of ownership over their own behavior, and what’s more important than that? 

Trish Whetstone is the Director of Program Services at Prevention Works, a non-profit substance use prevention agency in Chautauqua County, New York. The agency’s mission is to build a safe and healthy environment by effectively educating the community on positive life choices.