How to cultivate social-emotional well-being in our families

If there’s anything the past 2 years have made excruciatingly apparent, it is the urgency of social-emotional wellness for families. Kids require care and instruction to manage successfully in school (whether that’s in person or online) and in life. Skills like identifying and managing emotions, being a good friend, controlling impulses, communicating effectively, and working with others are invaluable.

Big emotions—like anger, fear, and sadness—can be really uncomfortable. But even uncomfortable feelings are okay. In fact, all emotions are okay. It just takes practice to manage uncomfortable emotions so you can respond in a healthy way.” ― Jessica Speer

 Social-emotional well-being strengthens us as individuals and as communities, especially during uncertain times. When we practice and build our skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship building, and decision making, we are better prepared to circumnavigate stressors, anxieties, and challenges. We can resolve problems and work together to function at a higher level—in the classroom, at work, and at home.

In the same ways we exercise our bodies or practice dribbling a ball, we have to train in identifying, articulating, and handling our emotions. Empathy is a muscle we have to activate. By consistently doing so, when we encounter stressful situations, we have a toolkit that we can readily draw upon to help us navigate that stressor or decrease the conflict.

So how can we practice Social-emotional well-being at home? Here are a few ways that families can easily incorporate them into their lives.

1. Take care of yourself, even when you are bogged down with your to-do lists and other demands

In order to foster the social and emotional skills of young people, you must take care of your own mental, social and emotional wellness. Young children are sensitive to the stress of their caretakers. They sense when we are worried and anxious, and our emotions directly affect the emotions of our children. We must create time, for our own wellness practices—journaling, going for a walk, meditating, exercising, for instance. Just like we would put on our own oxygen masks first before putting on a child’s.

2. Create routines with the intention

Routines ground us and offer a sense of safety and security. They are especially important for young children. Right now, amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, having the groundedness of set routines and schedules brings with it a semblance of certainty.  Establish a daily routine for you and your children to stick to. Create intentional time and structure for social-emotional learning. This would ideally be 5 to 10 minutes of dedicated practice every day. This could be done through, art, dance, yoga, dance, or journaling.

3. Quality time

Many parents may be more physically present as kids will be home due to the summer holidays and the uncertainty of the pandemic. But that does not mean they are truly present due to increased work demands while supporting learning at home. It is vital to dedicate planned time to connect and not presume that it will happen naturally because we are more “present” now than ever before. Be intentional about when you’re connecting with children and when you are working. Set daily times for playing together, reading books, or singing songs.

4. Devote time for acts of service or kindness for others

Cultivating ways to offer kindness to others helps us build thankfulness for our own lives and situations, and improves our own physical and mental health. Write a letter outlining the highlights of your day, or draw a picture of a joyful moment you’ve experienced or something you wish for someone else.

5. Participate in creativity together

Being creative is a fundamentally vulnerable process, especially for older students and adults. By expressing our creative sides, we can open up to find opportunities to learn new things about ourselves and others or learn new modalities to communicate. Cooking or baking together, doing puzzles, colouring or art projects, playing board games, or writing a poem or a song together are some instances of exploring creativity together.

6. Practice active listening

Don’t simply presume that you know exactly what your child is feeling or is afraid of. Ask questions, listen actively and model eye contact, and then explain what you can in response to their questions. Validate that you see and acknowledge their feelings, fears, and concerns. By validating our child’s emotions, we help them better accept and understand their feelings, develop self-compassion, and commiserate with others.

7. Help your child express and name emotions

This aids young people understand what it is that they’re feeling. If children are struggling to identify their feelings, ask them to express them through drawing, a facial expression, or a movement in their body.

8. Practice social-emotional learning mindfully

Creating important habits take practice, and just as you brush your teeth every day, children and adults both need to regularly identify, express, and manage their emotions. Our emotions and stressors vary hour to hour and day to day, and it’s important that we check in with ourselves and those around us in order to recognize what we all need in order to work through those feelings and move through them together. You could also gently stretch your bodies and follow the leader, co-regulating and bringing down your “emotional temperature” to center yourself and move on to the next thing with more focus.

We will certainly not be perfect each moment of every day. But by opening an honest dialogue about our emotions and integrating Social-emotional well-being into our family structure with intentionality, we are only helping ourselves and our children now and in the future.