Why Social-Emotional Learning Is So Important

Little kids have big feelings, and with big feelings come a lot of emotions. The better children can deal with these emotions, the better experts believe they are positioned to learn and thrive. That’s why Social-Emotional Learning has become a parenting hot topic, and an essential part of what we teach in the classroom and at home–at every stage!

It’s also why Kelly Oriard and Callie Christensen, a family therapist and special educator, respectively, co-founded Slumberkins, an emotional learning brand on a mission to empower parents to be the first teachers of their children’s emotional learning journey.  Their plush-like creatures, skill-building books, and positive affirmation cards are designed to make effective tools more accessible–and more fun!–while helping children become more caring, confident, and resilient members of their community. (Their adorable creature characters are now streaming in an Apple Original Series from The Jim Hensen Company, too!)

 Not sure what SEL is exactly or why you should support your kids on this lifelong journey? We asked Kelly and Callie to help break it down!


Mommy Bites (MB): What is Social-Emotional Learning?  

Kelly Oriard (KO): Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is the foundation for children and adults to truly connect with themselves and others. It is the focus on the essential skills and mindsets that help us understand our emotions and how to take care of and manage those emotions so we can build positive, safe, and supportive relationships, resiliency and problem-solving skills. 


MB: What are the key components of SEL? 

KO: There are five:

    1. Self Awareness: Understanding your own emotions and worth and knowing your challenges and strengths. 
    2. Self Management: Taking care of your feelings, knowing what you need, and advocating for yourself to reach your goals. 
    3. Social Awareness: Showing and feeling empathy and knowing how to be supportive of others.
    4. Relationship Skills: Building positive, safe, and supportive relationships while learning to work in a group and understand how to manage and solve conflicts as they come. 
    5. Responsible Decision-Making: Making ethical and safe choices that consider the well-being of yourself and others in your class, school, and community. 


MB: Why is SEL so important for kids to learn at a young age?

KO: SEL allows children to learn and develop the foundational skills that help them through all stages of life. It allows them to navigate big emotions by learning and practicing emotional regulation strategies, which provides them with the tools to support stress while also building self-esteem and self-worth. Children will be better equipped with conflict resolution, self-advocacy, and problem-solving skills–all while learning to set goals and work through challenges when participating in Social-Emotional Learning at a young age. It also provides children with the skills to care for their feelings while being inclusive of others’ feelings. 


MB: How is SEL typically taught in the classroom? 

Callie Christensen (CC): It’s happening all day, throughout the school–and it never stops! Often teachers will use their classroom Morning Meeting time to dive deep into the SEL themes through stories, movement, music, and more, but it really is connected during every moment within a classroom. 

For example, when a child feels frustrated because the work is too hard, reinforcing the SEL strategies can help children successfully manage that feeling of frustration. SEL can also be reinforced when children are experiencing conflict with each other in the classroom or at recess. There are moments of learning that take place when students have their feelings hurt by others or when a child is sitting alone without a friend to play with. Supporting children in building their toolboxes to take care of big feelings as they come is so valuable. 


MB: How does it effect learning?

CC: SEL allows children to build their self-esteem and self-acceptance regardless of what they can do compared to their classmates. It encourages perseverance while accepting that it’s okay to make mistakes. It teaches that we all have strengths and challenges and builds our growth mindset, which is imperative to learning in a classroom setting.


MB: How can parents support SEL at home? 

CC: Parents and caregivers can encourage their children to share their feelings and welcome any and all of those feelings as they come. Create a safe space to support big emotions, and use this space to help comfort and support your child. Don’t just wait until there is a problem to address feelings. Learning can actually start from day one. 


Books can be a great place to introduce topics and begin to build your awareness as a parent, too. Slumberkins books and resources are a perfect place to start. We have a whole library of introductory books to introduce concepts to little ones and instill positive messages that will help them develop a positive self-identity as they grow!


MB: What are the SEL milestones for different ages? 

KO: Babies are really working on expressing their needs; the caregiver’s job is to respond to those needs as best they can. Caregivers can offer a safe and loving environment to promote healthy attachment. Healthy (or secure) attachment is essential for children as they develop and make new connections in the future. 

Toddlers are working on emerging independence; their emotions start to get expressed in bigger and more significant ways. They are working on communicating their feelings but need A LOT of support managing big feelings and calming down when they are upset. We expect that parents will need to intervene quite a bit to help toddlers stay safe when they are upset. Toddlers can practice communication which is also a significant relationship skill. It’s never too early to start learning feelings words that will help with emotional regulation later on. 

Preschoolers are really expanding on their Social-Emotional Learning. In fact, most preschool specialists believe that Social-Emotional Learning is THE MOST important thing for this age group (even above academic learning). That’s because if they can learn to cope with frustration, express their feelings, problem solve, and get along with others, they will be in a better spot emotionally to be able to learn in a typical classroom environment. SEL is the foundation for all other learning. 

Elementary Schoolers have new SEL opportunities. Peer relationships become increasingly important through the elementary school years and into high school. Learning to build meaningful and healthy relationships, navigate social dynamics, manage stress, and gain self-awareness all become increasingly important as we grow. These things continue to be important into adulthood!


MB: Are there signs to watch for when children need more SEL support? 

KO: Everyone, and we mean everyone, can use support at some point in their lives. Sometimes that means counseling or other professional services, and sometimes that means more support from your community. If you are feeling confused and unsure if you can support your child with their big feelings or behaviors, we recommend you reach out for support. Your child’s pediatrician is a great place to start. 

Signs your child may need support with SEL are difficulty with eating, sleeping, behavioral concerns, tantrums that are bigger or more frequent than most of their peers, or that their mood is low. If your child is struggling in school to manage frustration with schoolwork or with peers. Also, if your parent “spidey-sense” is going off that something is up, it may be time to seek support. 


MB: How can children benefit from SEL when they’ve experienced trauma or developmental delays?

KO: Learning how to express big feelings and cope during difficult situations can be a big part of their healing journey and/or greatly impact a child’s daily lives. SEL doesn’t just have to happen in counseling or therapy–it is best when it happens at home, school, and all of a child’s natural environments, along with professional services. 

SEL also builds skills to help each child be a supportive and empathetic classmate. Having regular discussions about what makes each individual unique creates a more supportive classroom environment that enables children to be more considerate of their own needs as well as the needs of others. 


Want to learn more about SEL and Slumberkins? Visit slumberkins.com to see what it’s all about.