7 Effective Strategies to Promote Social and Emotional Development
Wow. The last year has left me speechless more times than I can count.
I used to complain about the 30 minute drive to my daughter’s school every morning and now that feels like a lifetime ago. Because there was a period where we weren’t driving anywhere and life has radically changed in the last year.
Buzz words like emotional intelligence and mental health have been on the rise for the past few years, but now more than ever parents are wondering how do I teach my kids to be resilient? To have strong emotional skills so when the hard times come, they are prepared!?
How do we help our kids learn essential social skills like perseverance? The ability to express HARD feelings and talk about the unknown?
How can we teach them grit? Flexibility? The ability to see a glass half full?
As a school psychologist this was my role. To teach kids essential social and emotional skills to not only help them in school but in life.
I’ve put together activities to help you build your child’s emotional intelligence at home! Use this as a guide and a starting point. As you work through some of these activities you may notice certain skills your children need to work through.
Start a conversation with your kids about mental health and don’t worry about making every activity perfect. The goal is to open dialogue and stretch your kids a bit during this season one life.
#1 Play a Game Together:
Games are a wonderful way to have fun together and learn social skills at the same time! As a psychologist I played traditional board games like Chutes & Ladders and Jenga with my students all the time.
Games teach skills like working together, turn taking and learning to lose.
If you play at home and notice your child has a huge fit when they lose, don’t shy away from the situation. Start a conversation about it.
“How does losing make you feel? What can we do to feel better? How should we respond when someone else wins?”
These skills will transfer to school and beyond.
Recently, our family has been loving this new cooperative game Outfoxed. The kids don’t even realize they are learning problem solving skills and deductive reasoning while they are playing!
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#2 Let Your Child Be Bored
Sometimes this is harder on the parents than the kids! As I’m typing this my kids are bugging me “What can we doooo…… (whine)?”
I’m a people pleaser so it’s easy for me to go through the day and try to entertain them at every moment. But this is just not practical, sustainable or realistic.
Sometimes life is boring. Sometimes we won’t know what to do. Teach your kids the skills to figure this out.
One way to do this is with enforceable limits or boundaries (read more on that here). Boundaries in parenting and life in general are SO important.
Not great at setting boundaries? I highly recommend these books (Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life OR Boundaries with Kids: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Children).
Yes I love playing games with my kids and exploring outside together. But there are times when I need to do housework or answer emails.
In these moments, my kids need to learn how to entertain themselves. This is a LIFELONG skill.
It’s hard to develop and sure we all need a little extra grace in these difficult times, but I still believe it’s a great skill to learn.
One of my kids has a particularly tough time with this.
But slowly we are increasing this child’s ability to wait, be flexible and find creative ways to play without mom or dad.
We are doing this by giving space and the opportunity to do things for him- or herself. We are also learning how to ignore the whining and not give in all the time.
#3 Ask Questions, Listen and Be an Example
The other night we were asking our oldest child about social distancing. “How does this make you feel? What do you think about all of this?”
She was very open about it, she misses her friends and going places. She doesn’t love being at home 24/7.
We also asked her how do you think mommy and daddy feel about it? It’s interesting to see what your kids will say!
At first she said mommy is nervous about the virus. I wasn’t exactly surprised, but it made my wonder. Could I be a better example for her?
Kids are always listening. They can sense our unrest. They can sense our calm. Which one can I show my kids today?
There are times when life will give us trouble. We won’t always make the right choice, say the right thing or know what to do. But we can learn from our mistakes and grow in the process.
We can be an example for our children. For our family, we are so grateful our hope is anchored in Christ’s love toward us. Because of He lives within us, we can find peace.
We have been making it a point to put on praise and worship music every morning. It brings so much peace to our home. God has truly been our rock and foundation during this stressful time and we want to share this with our children.
So talk to your kids. Ask them how they are feeling. Don’t shy away from hard conversations, they may feel or think more than you realize.
#4 Adopt an Authoritative Parenting Approach
Change is hard. Unexpected, quick change is even harder. Have conversations with your children about these changes.
The last few weeks I’ve said many times “This is hard.” Validating our children’s feelings is so important. Everyone wants to feel heard.
But here is they key, don’t stop there.
Research tells us authoritative parenting is the best parenting style.
So what does this look like? Love, grace, validation combined with boundaries, discipline and consequences.
EXAMPLE TO SAY TO YOUR KIDS: “This is hard. I know this is frustrating. What can we do to make this easier? More enjoyable? How can we make the best of this tough situation?”
Brainstorm with your kids. Come up with a plan together.
The best parenting approach is one that loves the children where they are at but pushes them to be more adaptive.
#5 Eat Dinner Together
This is another research based activity that we try our best to implement in our home. It’s not easy with everyone’s schedules and dinner time seems to be particularly crazy in our house with 3 small kids.
But the benefits outweigh the cons and it’s SO important.
Put the cellphones down, the iPads away, turn the TV off and enjoy one another’s company.
We often share our favorite part of the day at the dinner table. Our kids love it!
Here are just a few research articles stating the importance of eating family meals together. Not only does it help with high-risk behaviors, it can also impact eating habits.
- The relationship between frequency of family dinner and adolescent problem behaviors after adjusting for other family characteristics
- Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors
- Family Dinner: More than Just a Meal
Start this habit now, while you have more time. You won’t be sorry!
#6 Read Together:
“I thought you said these wouldn’t be academic activities?” Yes you are right! Although reading is an academic skills, books are a wonderful way to talk about feelings.
Books are also great conversation starters. Especially during difficult seasons it’s important to give kids a space to express themselves.
We’ve found our kids usually open up right before bedtime!
While we are reading books together we often ask questions like “How do you think X (character) feels about this?” “What can X do to help this situation?” “Have you ever felt like X?”
Most likely you can ask these questions with books you already own. But if you are looking for specific books to help your children recognize emotions, manage negative emotions or overcome fear, here are 20 GREAT books to teach kids social skills.
#7 Try Cognitive Behavior Therapy:
Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT is a research based therapy method that focuses on how our thought life impacts our feelings and actions.
Do I think every child needs to have lengthy discussions about difficulties or anxieties they may feel? No. Does every children need to learn CBT? No.
Use you discretion. We don’t want to add any extra stress.
But if your child is showing signs of anxiety or fear at home or school this is a great resource: CBT Workbook for Kids: 40+ Fun Exercises and Activities to Help Children Overcome Anxiety & Face Their Fears at Home, at School, and Out in the World.
As a psychologist I loved using CBT and found it very effective in replacing unhelpful thoughts in my own life.
So that’s it, 7 social emotional skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to help your family in this difficult time.
Below you will find a few bonus, faith based resources. I’d love to hear how you are handling this in your home?
Share with our community of moms on Instagram or leave a comment below!
BONUS! Faith Based Resources
We’ve sponsored the same child through compassion for the past 9 years. Our daughter loves taking pictures to send to our sponsored child. Compassion has an awesome FREE resource for parents called Compassion Explorer.
Here you can find free devotionals, activities, arts and crafts, and lessons to teach your children about Biblical love, guarding your body and how to overcome fear.
Focus on the Family has a section about talking to your kids about coronavirus.
Finally, I’ve personally really enjoyed Sally Clarkson’s podcast, At Home With Sally, she recently had an episode about cultivating hope admits chaos. You may want to check it out here.
How do you encourage social emotional growth in your kids? Share in the comments below!