NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 23

Socio-emotional learning during Covid-19

Across the world, children are affected by physical distancing, quarantines and nationwide school closures due to the spread of the coronavirus epidemic. Some children and young people may be feeling more isolated, worried, bored and uncertain. They may feel fear and grief over the impact of the virus on their families.

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus outbreak has changed our daily lives. But even during the uncertain time, it’s an unquestionable fact that our children are still growing and developing their socio-emotional learnings (SEL). Following the current social situation, there is a strong need for healthy execution of SEL as a whole. Everyone can help support a child’s SEL development during the critical time which may even help relieve one’s stress. Just a few minutes spending positively with children and a few simple and interesting everyday activities can make a difference. According to experts, early childhood is a critical period in human development when your child begins to learn about their environment, develop a sense of self and explore how to express emotions. While a huge part of development occurs before entering school, children continue to grow and develop as they encounter new life experiences.

Positive relationships with parents help children to develop trust, empathy and a compassionate family environment. During the current crisis, many parents find themselves in the role of a teacher due to schools’ closures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. For decades, psychologists, child development experts and educators have emphasized the importance of social and emotional learning or SEL.

According to experts, when schools teach youths to work well with others, regulate their emotions and engage in problem-solving, students are better prepared to deal with life’s challenges and be academically successful. SEL education varies, based on the areas of focus and the child’s age.

Social and emotional learning involves creating positive relationships and emotional connections as part of learning to help children develop the skills they need to be successful in life. SEL has often been emphasized in schools, given the amount of time spent in the classrooms and the opportunities available to practise these important skills. The skills include having the ability to: Set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy toward others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, understand and manage emotions.

Research has consistently shown the benefits of SEL. An investigation work of Roger Weisberg, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who conducted decades of research on social and emotional learning, finds that students who participated in SEL programs, through schools, show more positive outcomes compared to their peers in areas including social and emotional skills, attitudes toward self and others, positive social behaviour, conduct problems, emotional distress and academic performance. Based on the confirmed benefits of social and emotional learning, children must continue to receive some SEL while staying at home during the Covid-19 pandemic observing social distancing.

Given that most children are at home with their parents during the pandemic, it provides a unique opportunity for parents to help foster social and emotional development. Children and adolescents often learn about how to behave by receiving direct feedback from adults. When you notice that your child is engaging in the desired behaviour, such as sharing or helping others, be sure to provide some verbal praise. The more you reinforce appropriate behaviour, the greater the chances children will repeat such behaviours and those will become habits.

Conflict resolution is necessary for navigating difficult conversations, interacting with different personalities and maintaining relationships with peers. Create opportunities for your child to interact with peers or family members to help them learn how to get along, share and manage their frustrations.

While being stuck inside homes observing social distancing for a long period can lead to developing a “short temper” or poor expression of emotions. Teach your child how to use their words to talk through situations and learn how to compromise. Modelling appropriate behaviour for children is another useful strategy to teach cooperation.

Children and adults need to be able to express their emotions to cope with uncertainty in life and for their overall well-being. Emotional expression helps others understand how you feel, allows you to manage stress, worry or sadness, and prevents negative coping. Holding in your emotions or denying your feelings could lead to difficulties, such as acting out in anger or verbal or physical aggression. One easy way to teach children about expressing and managing their emotions is by using books and reading materials.

Empathy involves the ability to emotionally understand what others are experiencing and to have some perspective on how others think and feel. Empathy is not only important to understand how others experience life, but it can also prepare your child to have better relationships with their peers and in adulthood.

Use examples from television, books or watching the news to help children learn empathy. You could, for instance, discuss how medical doctors and nurses are working to care for others with Covid-19 and ask your child what thoughts or feelings they imagine healthcare workers are experiencing. By teaching empathy, you can promote self-sacrifice, or helping others without expecting something in return.

While going through this unpredictable time, we should remember that many children are learning by watching the actions of adults in their lives. It’s also a critical opportunity, as children grow, learn and develop, to prepare them to deal with uncertainty in maturity.