Supporting your child’s social and emotional needs during school closures

Adult and kid hands holding colorful heart on blue background. World autism awareness day concept.
Right now, parents and children across the globe are under a lot of stress. On top of this, parents are being asked to do even more to support the academic needs of their children than ever before. While it's easy to focus on the logistical concerns of living through a global pandemic, we also need to tend to the emotional impact such events can have both on ourselves and our children.

Our children react to what they see on the news as well as how they see us react to sudden unemployment, sickness, and the loss of life that COVID-19 threatens. 

During this time, it is important to remember the influence that social and emotional factors have on your family’s overall wellbeing. Without these needs being met, it will be difficult to keep your student learning. 

The following article provides parents with an overview of the process known as “social emotional learning,” offering a basic definition and strategies for supporting students’ social and emotional needs during a disruptive event such as this one.

Defining “social emotional learning”

Social emotional learning (SEL) is broadly understood as a process through which people build awareness and skills in managing emotions, setting goals, establishing relationships, and making responsible decisions that support success in school and in life. 

SEL develops social skills, such as self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness. Developing such competencies fosters positive social skills, reduces conduct problems, diminishes emotional stress, and improves academic performance. 

Furthermore, when we develop social and emotional competencies, our ability to form relationships and build social awareness increases, enhancing our ability to connect with individuals of diverse perspectives, cultures, languages, histories, identities, and abilities. 

SEL competencies

Michigan identifies five social and emotional competencies that represent a variety of social and emotional skills. The five competencies, introduced below, will be explored in greater depth throughout this blog series:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior.
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations.   
  • Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. 
  • Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.

The following video from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) provides more detail on the SEL competencies and their relevance for parents.

How can I support my child’s social emotional learning right now?

Now that you have an overview of the social emotional learning process and competencies, what can you do to support your child’s SEL needs at this time? 

Here are a few ideas to get started:

Allow time to talk about feelings with your child

In these uncertain times, children can feel a variety of emotions. It is important to allow space for conversations about their feelings to take place. 

This can be especially difficult if parents and children are adapting to considerably different schedules. However, you don’t have to have a formal sit-down discussion to accomplish this, and it shouldn’t feel forced.

It might be something as simple as a quick check-in, a chat while making dinner together, or while cuddling on the couch.

Sometimes children will talk or act out their feelings during playtime. Pay attention and allow for these outlets in healthy ways. Acknowledge their feelings, validate them and offer support. 

Model healthy coping behaviors

When life feels out of control, it is easy to default to unhealthy habits. 

We want to find things that we can control. It’s important to remember children look to adults as role models.

 Try to find healthy outlets for potential stress that could be experienced during this time.

For example, you could: 

  • Take time to get outside. Nature can be soothing, take a walk or play in the yard. 
  • Make healthy snack choices. 
  • Unplug from devices at different intervals and enjoy creative play. 
  • Ensure everyone is getting good rest. 

These are small ways to make sure you and your family stay healthy. In addition, here are some helpful resources for managing anxiety and stress from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. 

Encourage responsible decision-making. 

Times where everyone is at home provide wonderful opportunities to help your child develop important SEL skills. 

For example, you could:

  • Allow your children to begin to make decisions about when they will do assigned classwork or expected chores. 
  • Help your child think about potential outcomes based on the decisions they make. 
  • Walk them through how to weigh choices about ways to spend their time, how to prioritize tasks, and how to think through potential consequences.  

These are especially important skills to have in the future and can be helpful in times where schedules may be in flux.

Finally, keep in mind that social and emotional skills are refined over a lifetime. Take small steps in supporting your child during this particularly difficult time, and give yourself and child grace as you try it out in your home.

This post contains an excerpt from the Social Emotional Learning for Educators series in the Michigan Virtual Professional Learning Portal. Educators can enroll in these courses, provided by the Michigan Department of Education, at no cost.

Parenting in a Pandemic (Blog Series)

With students home from school, social emotional learning strategies can help parents support their children’s overall wellbeing in the face of global stress from the COVID-19 pandemic. In this blog series, we offer strategies to help parents support students’ social and emotional needs during this disruptive time. If you’d like to receive notifications when new blogs in this series are available, you can subscribe to our blog here.

Lauren Kazee

Lauren Kazee

Lauren Kazee is the founder of LivingSLOW. Throughout her career as a licensed social worker, her efforts have focused on mental health and wellness for youth, inside and outside the school setting. She received her Bachelor of Social Work in 1993 and Master of Social Work in 1994, both from the University of Illinois in Chicago, Jane Addams College of Social Work. As a licensed professional, she worked in inner-city Chicago, rural communities in Ohio, and urban areas in Michigan as a school social worker and an outpatient therapist. Her experience within the mental health field and education system led to participation in various federal and state-funded projects throughout the state of Michigan, as well as opportunities to contribute to and support mental health efforts in other states.

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Limited Course Capacity

We’re sorry to inform you that we have reached capacity for several of our Semester 1 and Trimester 1 courses. You’ll notice when attempting to enroll students in our Student Learning Portal that some courses are unavailable. While we are no longer accepting new enrollments for these courses at this time, many courses continue to remain open for enrollment.

With many students across the state 100% remote, demand for our online courses is greater than ever before. Because every course we offer is taught by a Michigan-certified teacher, this high volume of enrollments has created capacity issues for our teachers who provide each and every student with individual feedback.

While the Michigan Virtual team anticipated and planned for significant increases in student enrollments this Fall, the increased demand we’ve experienced has been unprecedented. As a result, we are taking steps to hire even more part-and full-time teachers to support larger numbers of student enrollments for Semester 2 as well as for Trimester 2 and 3. 

For schools that still need online learning options this year, please fill out the form at the bottom of our virtual pathways page to meet with someone to discuss other solutions. While some of our teacher-led courses are full, we may still have the capacity to help you in upcoming terms or can discuss timing to implement a whole-school or collaborative program in which local teachers from your school/district use our online course content to teach students. We also have free course content and resources available for you to use.

We know this is an incredibly stressful time for all, and we’re sorry if the courses you’re looking for are unavailable. We never want to turn away a student who wants to learn from us. Our top concern, however, is student success, and we have a policy to not take on additional enrollments if we cannot guarantee that all students will have a quality online learning experience. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate the unusually high volume of enrollments we are receiving.