Conversations for Social and Emotional Wellness

By: Leticia Barr

You may have heard about SEL, or social-emotional learning, a practice that teaches children of all ages self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These fundamental skills include many of the same skills that are involved in prevention education. Teaching kids how to advocate for themselves, make good decisions, set goals, and prioritize mental health can empower them to say YES to a healthy lifestyle and NO to underage drinking. 

These skills, which used to be referred to as “soft skills” and are now more properly named “power skills,” can be taught in the classroom, through extracurricular programs, or reinforced at home. Conversations and regular practices allow kids to apply knowledge, values, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, set and achieve goals, demonstrate empathy, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. 

Here are some easy practices that promote social and emotional wellness in kids of all ages. 

Create quick check-in times 

By starting or ending the day with a check in, you’re encouraging kids to communicate about how they’re feeling. Some upper-elementary school aged kids might benefit from having a feelings chart available to show how they’re feeling when they may not have the words to express themselves. Get more mature middle school aged kids communicating by asking open-ended check in questions like: 

  • What are you most looking forward to today? 
  • How are you feeling today? 
  • What made you excited today? 
  • How can I support you? 
  • What was the best part of your day? 

When asking these questions, model active listening by avoiding distractions (like putting down your phone!). Maintaining positive body language and demonstrating empathy is also important. By creating space for open and honest conversations on a regular basis, you’re showing kids you support them. They’ll share the fun things about their day and be more comfortable coming to you to talk about more difficult topics as they get older.  

Setting and achieving goals the SMART way 

Being able to set and achieve goals, both big and small, is social emotional wellness at work. Goals should always be age appropriate and something the child wants to accomplish. They can be academic, social, physical, or improve their wellbeing. 

Regardless of the type of goal, the SMART goal method can help kids of all ages set and achieve their goals. SMART stands for: 

  • S= Specific 
  • M= Measurable 
  • A= Achievable 
  • R= Results-focused 
  • T= Time-based 

Discussing SMART steps helps kids create realistic and actionable steps that can be used to reach their goals. The SMART framework sets kids up for success by keeping them focused on the end goal. When the goal is achieved, reinforce the success, empowering them to feel confident and successful.   

Discuss responsible decision-making 

Teaching kids to make responsible decisions is an essential life-long skill. Helping them realize there’s a connection between their choices and future goals is important, but they also need to be given a safe space to reflect on mistakes made.  

Encouraging goal setting and helping kids navigate challenging situations strengthens their decision-making abilities. Simple ways to practice decision-making skills include games like tic tac toe, musical chairs, and even hide and seek, especially when they get to devise new rules for the game. 

Here are some questions to use with older kids to discuss responsible decision-making: 

  • Why do you think that’s the best choice? 
  • What are three questions you can ask yourself that will help you decide what the right thing to do is? 
  • Think of a time when doing the right thing was harder than just doing what your friends were doing. What made this hard? 

By facilitating conversations about responsible decision-making, you’re encouraging kids to make healthy choices, you’re strengthening their social and emotional wellness and instilling them with essential prevention education to keep them substance-free.