Helping Parents, Schools and Communities
Nurture Children's Emotional Intelligence
Aug 21, 2019
4 min read
Setting SEL Goals at the Beginning of the School Year
Updated: Jan 15
As the beginning of the school year fast approaches, many parents talk to their children about what they are most excited to learn about this year. These conversations tend to focus on academic skills children want to learn, such as reading chapter books or learning how to multiply. It is equally important, however, to help our children think about goals related to their social emotional growth. The development of these non-cognitive skills, such as resiliency, understanding, self regulation and emotional intelligence, have been shown in a growing body of research to contribute to academic success as well as success later in life. So this year, when you have conversations with your children about what they would like to learn, help them also express what social emotional skills they would like to develop. Some examples include:
“This year, I want to practice learning a different perspective” or
“I want to practice being kind to people who are new at school” or
“I want to learn new strategies to try to stay calm when I get frustrated or start to feel anxious.”
SEL goals can also include practicing a growth mindset, a term coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, who found that students’ mindsets, or how they perceived their abilities, played an important role in their motivation and achievement. In her studies, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). To take a real life example, if your child typically says, “I can’t do it!” when confronted with a challenging math problem, help to reframe his or her thinking; “I can’t do it yet” conveys the possibility that this skill is within reach and that his or her ability is not fixed.
These conversations are not easy and it is often hard to know where to start. Typically, parents are more comfortable and practiced when thinking about academic conversations, and talking about these social emotional topics can be sensitive to approach. Here are some ideas to support this conversation:
Before your discussion, take a few moments to learn about the various components of social emotional learning, so you have a better understanding of what it encompasses. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a thought leader in this area and has designed a framework for thinking about these skills (see here).
Think about one area that your child is struggling with and think through one or two goals related to just this one area. All of your child’s SEL goals won’t be met this year—don’t bite off more than you (or your child) can chew. Remember, SEL work is a continuum, and in setting goals we also have to take into account a child's age and stage of development.
Find the right moment to talk to your child. Often, these conversations come up when we are triggered by something our children have done, or we think they should be doing better. These conversations often derail quickly. Finding the time to talk about these goals when you're both calm can help ensure a successful conversation.
Find a mirror goal to the one your child is working on either at work or elsewhere in your life. For example, if your child is working on a goal to see a situation from a sibling’s perspective, tell him or her about a goal you have at work to better understand your colleague’s perspective even when you don’t agree. This provides an opportunity for them to see you working on your own SEL skills, and also makes for a two-sided conversation over the course of the year.
Remember, these goals can feel big for kids and they require lots of practice. It is important to remember that having setbacks and making mistakes are part of learning. Set aside time to help your child reflect on the goal and think about ways to learn from a setback. This will help your child build resiliency and a growth mindset.
Don’t go it alone. Make sure to communicate with your child’s teacher about these goals. Many teachers ask parents to write a letter about their children in the beginning of the school year. Take time to include a few SEL goals your child is working on and make sure to follow up during the school year and at parent teacher conferences. Teachers are also a great resource to help you set goals and think about developmentally appropriate expectations. For additional help, The EQ Child also offers support for parents who want to develop these skills in their children.
Taking the time to think about social emotional goals with your children and make them part of everyday conversations will help normalize them and show children that we support what I like to refer to as "the other half of the report card." Ultimately, the work we do now to invest in our children's social emotional development will help them navigate both the social and academic challenges at school and set them up for greater success both at school and beyond.