The term “Social Emotional Learning” (SEL) seems to be all the rage these days when discussing early childhood education. This is for good reason! Social and Emotional skills helps us understand the crucial Life Skills and character that have a huge influence on the type of person we become! Character is a far greater determinant of Success in the long run than the Cognitive Skills that educators often obsess over. I like to obsess over Character and SEL is a great tool for building strong character.

Wikipedia defines SEL as: “a process for learning life skills, including how to deal with oneself, others and relationships, and work in an effective manner. In dealing with oneself, SEL helps in recognizing our emotions and learning how to manage those feelings. In dealing with others, SEL helps with developing sympathy and empathy for others, and maintaining positive relationships. SEL also focuses on dealing with a variety of situations in a constructive and ethical manner.”b2ap3_thumbnail_Go-Gemma.jpg

The preschool years mark a time when children are developing friendship skills and starting to understand their own feelings. By age 3 most children are able to cooperate with other kids, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website. Social-emotional activities can help preschoolers to build regulation skills, feel comfortable in group situations and better understand the world around them.

In his book “How Children Succeed”, Paul Tough critiques the “Cognative Hyposthesis” that states the smarter you are (the higher your IQ), the more successful you will be. Tough illustrates how cognitive skills (language, math, reading and science) alone are not the answer and they don’t have a direct correlation to success in the long run. Character, on the other hand, does have a direct correlation to success and sports provide a great environment for kids to develop character! One of the ways sports develops character is through helping children deal with their EMOTIONS.

As an athlete, I know firsthand of the great highs and lows that accompany the playing field. The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat relates to all of us and not just to the pros. Some of my toughest losses have been playing high school soccer in front of less than 1,000 fans while some of my greatest victories have been against my older brother during games in the back yard. While sports provide a great environment to deal with emotions and build character, these crucial Life Skills are not learned unless they are taught. Parents are the first educators of their children and must help children respond correctly to the challenges of sport in order to take full advantage of this great environment.  

Losing plays a big role in creating this potential character-forming environment, and it is “valuable” for a team to lose the occasional match. Losing is not the goal, and certainly not enjoyable as us parents know – dealing with a dejected child is not fun, but it is an opportunity! While winning breeds confidence, losing often results in frustration and blame. During a loss and/or poor performance, we must re-orientate a sad and disappointed child’s perspective towards loss or failure as an opportunity (this can be tough for us proud parents to swallow our pride as well).

“Following a loss, aggression doesn’t bring an athlete closer to the aim of improving their technique or incentive to train. Feeling ashamed about a performance or actions following an aggressive outburst often results in a low effort in either training or the next pressured situation” says Sports Psychologist Greg Wilmot. “Instead, experiencing a loss can help a team to become aware of their weaknesses and adapt their response to being placed under pressure. Teams or athletes that are ‘problem-focused’ can use the negative experience and information from a losing performance to fix mistakes that contributed to the loss. One of the central features of ‘Mental Toughness’ is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a defeat.”

Defeat builds the crucial MENTAL TOUGHNESS and character that helps children deal with adversity. It also helps us evaluate our performance and goals and find weaknesses that can be improved upon through practice and techniques. Yes, losing does make us stronger! Dealing with these emotions are challenging, but very important!

In tying this all together I’d like to mention the great social development that can take place through being in a team environment working together towards a common goal. The camaraderie and friendships forged through sports along with the relational skills and communication learned can last a lifetime. Sports provide an AWESOME environment for SEL that I encourage parents to take advantage of!

SEL is malleable (ever changing) and can be developed like a muscle; through effort and practice (with guidance and repetition). Since we all want to teach strong SEL skills and what is best for our youngsters, we must also be willing to place them in the environment, face the trials/challenges and put forth the effort that produces these skills.

Erica Loop from shares other specific was to develop SEL in preschoolers:

  • Modeling appropriate and expected behaviors for young children is one way to help them to learn social and emotional skills. Turn modeling into an engaging activity by using puppets or dramatic pretend play. Set up a scenario in which the preschooler meets and befriends a “peer” puppet. For example, you can play the puppet role of a new student who is anxious about meeting new friends. Show him how another child could help by modeling with another puppet. As the pretend scene plays out, let the preschooler take over and operate the puppet. He can give the puppet words to say that encourage the anxious child to become his friend.
  • Songs aren’t only for the musical content of a preschool curriculum. You can use songs to teach themed lessons in social and emotional areas. You can create a song by turning a favorite such as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” into a social sharing tune by replacing the lyrics with your own. For example, switch out the original words for something such as, “Sharing, sharing little child. Can you tell me how to share?” Whether you choose this tune or another, include themes such as sharing, making friends or being kind to others.
  • Reading a book interactively can help your preschool student better understand social and emotional concepts. Not only does a book reading activity provide an opportunity for the child to practice social skills such as listening attentively, but it can also help her to better distinguish fantasy from reality. Choosing themes that focus on social skills development areas such as making friends, sharing and listening to others as well as emotions can help the child to better understand what is expected of her. Look for titles such as “The Best Friends Book” by Todd Parr, “Feelings” by Aliki or “Making Friends” by Fred Rogers.
  • Art activities allow for the young child to express his feelings, gain self-control and learn how to communicate with others. Giving the preschooler choices when it comes to what materials to use or what type of art he will create can lead to independent decision-making skills.You can encourage social skill development and emotional self-regulation by setting out an array of art items and letting different children choose and share. Another option is to allow the preschooler to express his emotions by painting out his feelings, drawing a picture or pounding a ball of clay.

The following 15 skills listed are involved and promoted in SEL (from Wikipedia):

  1. “Recognizing emotions in self and others”
  2. “Regulating and managing strong emotions (positive and negative)”
  3. “Recognizing strengths and areas of need”
  4. “Listening and communicating accurately and clearly”
  5. “Taking others’ perspectives and sensing their emotions”
  6. “Respecting others and self and appreciating differences”
  7. “Identifying problems correctly”
  8. “Setting positive and realistic goals”
  9. “Problem solving, decision making, and planning”
  10. “Approaching others and building positive relationships”
  11. “Resisting negative peer pressure”
  12. “Cooperating, negotiating, and managing conflict nonviolently”
  13. “Working effectively in groups”
  14. “Help-seeking and help-giving”
  15. “Showing ethical and social responsibility”

“Socialization is the single greatest developmental benefit to be gained from a good preschool experience.” – Carleton Kendrick, Ed., M.D.

“Children learn by doing. In order to raise confident, inquisitive kids, we must allow them to try new things and make their own mistakes. Their involvement in athletics is proven to result in higher self-esteem.” – Kelly B. Cartwright, Ph.D.

Abundant Blessings!!!

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