April 14, 2020

With schools closed for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19, parents have the starring role in their children’s formal education—supporting their learning, managing their “classroom” behaviors, and keeping them physically active. As our children’s de-facto teachers (notwithstanding the tremendous efforts of professional educators to support our children), it is important that we also think about how to best integrate social and emotional learning (SEL) into their education.

SEL is the process by which “children and adults learn to understand and manage emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”1 Helping children develop SEL skills in the short-term will enable them to better process and navigate the current health crisis. Doing so for the long-term will help them succeed in school and thrive in life.

Here are some suggestions for developing SEL skills:

  • Managing emotions: For children in early grades, SEL involves teaching them to label their emotions. For children in later grades, it means helping them find coping strategies for anger, sadness, and fear. We can do this through daily conversations, such as asking them “What are you excited about today?” or “Did you see/hear anything that concerns you?” We can also encourage them to use coping skills, including exercise, mindfulness meditation, or journaling.
  • Building empathy: We can use this time to teach children how to support their peers—the neighbor whose parent lost a job, the classmate who has family members with COVID-19, or the friend who struggles to connect to online classes. We can talk to our children about how this situation affects different people and encourage them to connect with their friend by phone or online. We can teach them how to listen and be supportive. This skill will benefit them throughout their lives.
  • Organizational skills and self-discipline: In the absence of the structure offered by brick and mortar schools, this time at home is also an opportunity to help our children become more self-directed. While how independent a child can be depends on their developmental stage, we as parents can scaffold them in reaching the next level of independence. Perhaps they are old enough to schedule their homework or set up their daily schedule.

These are a few ways to help our children develop SEL skills while they’re home with us. For additional strategies, see these organizations:

 Shai Fuxman is a senior scientist at EDC with expertise in social and emotional learning (SEL) and behavioral health.


1Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2020). What is SEL? Retrieved from https://casel.org/what-is-sel/

Capacity Building for Individuals, Organizations, and Systems

1 Reply


Replying to:
Geria Joseph
This SEL component is really very important in the integral growth of our children during this hard time when schools are closed. I will do my best within my community.

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