By Megan Smedsrud, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Last year I started working with my local school district on implementing social emotional learning (SEL) in elementary schools.  I quickly became an SEL cheerleader, talking nonstop about the benefits of emotion checks, circles, and collaborative problem solving to just about anyone who would listen.  After a decade of working in urban schools and providing mental health therapy to children and families, I saw the beauty in teaching our children about the power of their feelings. I recognized the possibility of getting to be more our more authentic selves with children-something that EVERYONE can benefit from!

School is a place where children can be bold; try out new ideas, interact with people who are different from them, collaborate and problem solve.  While you can’t replicate the school environment at home, there are a few things you can do to help foster the amazing emotional growth during these early years that begins in the classroom.  So, rather than adding to the stress and worry of whether or not schools will open or how, here are a few suggestions to try out with your little person.

KINDNESS

Kindness is the cornerstone of many classrooms.  Look for ways to let your little one give back or help around the house.

  • Spend an afternoon getting artsy and make cards to send to a local nursing home, hospital, or detention center.
  • Go through your child’s room with them.  Are there books, toys, or clothes you can donate?  This can be a good opportunity to talk to them about ways you give back to your community.

EMPATHY

Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the feelings of another person.  It can feel tricky to talk about empathy, but there are plenty of resources out there to help!

  • READ A BOOK that takes seriously the emotions of the main character. I’m personally very fond of Ruby Finds a Worry, My Mouth is a Volcano, and Tiny T. Rex and the Very Dark Dark
  • Watch a video together on empathy.  Good place to start?  Sesame Street of course! 
  • After a book or movie, ask open-ended questions about feelings. What do you think the character should do? How do you think they feel? What would you do if you were this character?
  • Talk to kids about what is going on in the world.  Not sure how to start?  Try a news podcast just for kids.

CONSIDERING OTHERS’ PERSPECTIVES

This is another skill that often is introduced in the classroom.  Learning that people live differently, love differently, and even eat other foods than us helps build empathy and curiosity!

  • A pen pal can open up new cultures and build unique, valuable friendships.  If you don’t have far-flung friends with small kiddos, try putting a call out for pen pals on social media!
  • Need something that your child can do on their own?  Put on one of these stories from around the globe and introduce your child to a new culture. 

NOTICING AND MANAGING EMOTIONS

If you’ve been quarantining with little ones, chances are you’ve seen how all our emotions can get intense.  The tips below can help you talk about feelings and find ways to deal with the big ones.

  • Create a home coping kit or cool down corner: Get a box or a basket, and put in items that will calm them. Some common items that help are stress balls, play dough, a book they like, or a toy that they enjoy playing with quietly. Make coping skills cue cards so that your child can have a visual reminder of what calms and rem
  • Use a feelings chart: or make your own!  Take photos of your child making different faces to express different emotions.  Or collaborate with a few families to have photos of other people your child knows and loves! 

MINDFULLNESS

Mindfulness means slowing down to really notice what you’re doing and take in the world around you. When you’re mindful, you’re taking your time and feel calmer.  Who doesn’t want that?

  • Listen to a relaxation story with your child.  One benefit?  It will help you relax. Bedtime or Soundwalks are great resources. too! 
  • Deep breathing: The research on deep breathing is in!  Breathing helps get oxygen to your brain, slows down a speeding heart, and makes it easier to think and make decisions.  Belly Breathing resource.

Megan Smedrud, Senior Program Officer, Whole Child Initiative, LICSW, PMP Bio: I love kids and families! Over the past 15 years, my work has focused on the support and development of equitable educational and behavioral health opportunities for youth and families. I have worked with hospitals, school districts, and community organizations to help support the needs of all families, regardless of background, disability, or family structure.  I believe communities flourish when all children receive a quality education, can access physical and mental health services, and have a safe neighborhood to call home. In my free time, I enjoy cooking and gardening, exploring the Tacoma arts scene, and reading.